News ID: 271715
Published: 1254 GMT July 19, 2020

Syrians vote for new parliament amid measures against virus

Syrians vote for new parliament amid measures against virus

Syrians headed to polling stations in government-held parts of the war-torn country on Sunday to elect a new parliament amid strict health measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Totally 1,656 government-approved candidates are running this year for the 250-seat People’s Assembly. The total number of eligible voters hasn’t been announced.

Inside polling stations, all workers were wearing masks and gloves and voters had to use their own pens in the sanitized 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.

Volunteers stood outside polling stations carrying the programs and pictures of their favorite candidates, and tried to woo passersby to come in and vote.

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

The vote is a message to “emphasizes the cohesion of the Syrian homeland, that after nine years of war, Syria will not kneel,” Information Minister Imad Sarah told reporters after casting his ballot.

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.

Some 167 seats are allocated for Assad’s ruling Arab Socialist Baath Party while the rest are allocated for independents, including merchants, businessmen and industrialists.

Results are expected to be announced the following day. Assad's party and its allies are expected to take most of seats.

The head of the Higher Judicial Committee for the Elections, Judge SamerZumriq, 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.

On the eve of the polls, one person was killed and another wounded in a blast in Damascus, SANA said. The cause of the explosion was not immediately clear.

Portraits of the contenders have been displayed across the capital for weeks, with the candidates including several prominent businessmen.

The elections were postponed twice from April due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Among the first to cast his ballot in Damascus was 50-year-old Khaled al-Shaleh.

"My demands today are for the parliament to realize what laws need changing in the interest of the citizen," said the government employee.

"The conditions in the country have changed for the worse as the war drags on. But our demands before, during and after the war have always been to do with the economy," he added.

HananSukriye, 29, an employee at the Finance Ministry, said she was voting for the first time in her life.

"My vote alone won't make a difference, but if we all come together to choose worthy candidates, there will be an impact," she said.

No vote was being held in the northwestern province of Idlib, the last militant stronghold in Syria or in the country’s northeast, which is controlled by US-backed Kurdish-led militants.

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 neighboring countries.

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

Syria, that had a prewar population of 22 million, has reported 496 cases of infections and 25 deaths because of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

AP and AFP contributed to this story.



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