05/07/2012, 00.00
SYRIA
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First democratic elections in Syria after 50 years of Baa'th party hegemony

The opposition has boycotted the vote in various cities because of the climate of violence. Eleven parties are running against pro-Assad coalition. Syrian bishops urge voters to cast their ballot to build a democratic Syria.

Damascus (AsiaNews/ Agencies) - Syrian held the first democratic election of its history, after almost 50 years of Baa'th party hegemony under the Assad family.  Election officials said nearly 15 million of Syria's roughly 23 million people are eligible to vote for the 250-member National Assembly. However, the turnout could be low because of the opposition boycott.

Rebels fighting the regime call the vote a "farce" because of the ongoing violence, and accuse the regime of violating the UN-sanctioned ceasefire.

In the southern town of Dael, residents stopped anyone from putting up election posters and instead put up photos of the 20 local residents killed in the uprising. Similar actions were taken in other cities and villages.

Despite rebel criticism, Catholics believe that the elections are a sign of the regime's promised openness after a year of civil war that claimed 11,000 lives.

On 25 April, the Assembly of Syrian Bishops and Patriarchs issued a message urging the population to vote.

"The state has called for dialogue," the statement said. "We urge all national parties, at home and abroad, to build a democratic and multiparty Syria. We also encourage everyone to participate fully in free and fair elections to the National Assembly and express the popular will."

The election stems from democratic proposals that began with the constitutional referendum of 26 February, which marked the end of the one-party state in favour of multiparty democracy.

This enabled pro-democracy leaders to create 11 parties. The latter have presented more than 7,000 candidates who can for the first time challenge pro-Assad candidates running in a grand coalition called the National Progressive Front.

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