BEIRUT (AFP) – Syria’s ruling Baath party and its allies have won a majority in parliamentary elections held across government-held areas of the war-torn country, results announced on Tuesday showed.
In a widely expected victory in a vote labelled a “farce” by the exiled opposition, President Bashar al-Assad’s party and allied candidates on the “National Unity” list took 177 seats out of 250 in last Sunday’s polls.
Turnout stood at 33 per cent, down from 57 per cent in 2016, Electoral Commission Head Samer Zamreeq said.
The election comes after the Damascus government reconquered much of the territory lost at the beginning of the country’s war, but as it battles international sanctions and a crumbling economy.
Among the winners, Hussam Qatirji, a businessman under sanctions from the European Union (EU), retained his seat.
The EU accuses him of supporting pro-regime militias, but also facilitating the trade of arms, ammunition and fuel between the regime and various actors including the Islamic State group.
More than 7,000 polling stations opened across government-held parts of Syria last Sunday, state media said, including for the first time in former opposition strongholds.
But millions of Syrians who have fled the conflict were not eligible to vote.
After nine years of war that have killed 380,000 people and forced half the pre-war population from their homes, activists and the political opposition in exile have derided the elections and its results.
“Millions of Syrians voted with their feet in their fleeing or being forcibly displaced as a result of the terrorism of Assad and his sponsors,” the key opposition Syrian National Coalition said on Twitter.
Washington on Monday dismissed the elections as “stage-managed” and “unfree”.
“Syria has seen no free and fair elections since Assad’s Baath party came to power, and this year was no exception,” State Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus said.
Results came after reruns on Monday in four polling centres in Aleppo province and one in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, the official SANA news agency said.
Many of the 1,658 candidates ran on pledges to tackle sharp inflation and improve infrastructure ravaged by the conflict.
The value of the Syrian pound has plummeted on the black market in recent months, accelerated by the financial crisis in neighbouring Lebanon and new United States (US) sanctions implemented last month.
Food prices in Syria have shot up by more than 200 per cent in the past year and now stand at 20 times their pre-war levels, the World Food Programme said.
In a country where more than 80 per cent of people already lived in poverty, the United Nations (UN) agency has warned Syrians are now facing an “unprecedented hunger crisis”. The next presidential polls are expected in 2021, and candidates will need the written approval of at least 35 Members of Parliament.
Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem last month said Assad would remain in power “as long as the Syrians want him to stay”. The vote was twice postponed from April due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has officially infected 540 people and killed 31 in government-held areas.