Syrians vote for new Parliament amid virus measures

DAMASCUS, SYRIA (AP) — Syrians headed to polling stations in government-held parts of the war-torn country yesterday to elect a new Parliament amid strict health measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The vote is the third to take place in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011. It has killed more than 400,000, displaced half the country’s population and sent more than five million as refugees mostly into neighbouring countries.

The vote this year follows a new wave of United States (US) sanctions that came into effect last month and a campaign to fight corruption that saw a wealthy cousin of President Bashar Assad come under pressure to pay back tens of millions of dollars to the state.

Some 1,658 government-approved candidates are running this year for the 250-seat People’s Assembly. The total number of eligible voters hasn’t been announced.

As in previous votes in Syria, the vote will produce a rubber-stamp body loyal to the president.

File photo shows Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad waving to supporters outside the Parliament in Damascus after taking the oath of office in 2000. PHOTO: AFP

Inside polling stations, all workers were wearing masks and gloves and voters had to use their own pens in the sanitised booths. Once they cast the ballots they had to leave immediately as no gatherings were allowed inside. People also had to keep a safe distance while waiting for their turn.

In the morning, Assad and his wife, Asma, both wearing masks, voted in Damascus at the Ministry of Presidential Affairs.

Assad has twice postponed the country’s parliamentary elections this year in light of restrictions in place to combat the spread of the coronavirus. Assad himself is not standing for election.

Syria, that had a pre-war population of 22 million, has reported 496 cases of infections and 25 deaths because of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. However, the actual numbers are likely far higher and increases have been reported in recent days.

The Head of the Higher Judicial Committee for the Elections Judge Samer Zumriq confirmed on Saturday in a statement to state news agency SANA that more than 7,400 polling stations have been set up in 15 voting districts. They include 1,400 stations where troops and members of the country’s security services will vote.