THE People’s Assembly elections for selecting 250 members from over 3,500 candidates from across all Syrian provinces began at 7am on Wednesday April 13th, with voters beginning to arrive at the voting centres early in the morning.
Voting centres, which number over 7,300, opened their doors to voters at 7am and will remain open until 7pm. The duration of the elections was extended for five hours by a decision from the Higher Judicial Committee for Elections because of the huge turn-out.
In a statement to SANA, head of Higher Judicial Committee for Elections, Judge Hisham al-Shaar, said that the elections went well, with no complaints or problems registered so far. Al-Shaar said that the voters’ turnout was good, and that the Committee is staying in touch with subcommittees in provinces and elections committees.
SANA’s correspondents in the provinces confirmed that voting centres witnessed strong and increasing turnout. The voting centres included over 2,000 centres in Damascus, 17 in Deir Ezzor, 1,047 in Lattakia, 661 in Homs, 347 in Sweida, 741 in Hama, 368 in Hasaka, 816 in Tartous, and 347 in Sweida.
It should be noted that voting centres were opened in Damascus, Damascus Countryside, Hama, Lattakia, Aleppo, Tartous, Hasaka, and Deir Ezzor to receive voters staying in these provinces who are originally from other areas, namely the provinces of Idlib, Raqqa, Aleppo, Deir Ezzor, and Daraa.
Army and Armed Forces personnel also participated in the elections, including the Defence Minister and officers of the General Command. Candidates began their election campaigns on March 14th, which continued until the morning of Tuesday April 12th, at the same time as the judicial subcommittees for the elections announced their readiness to carry out and supervise the elections.
To cover this event, a media centre for mass media outlets was set up at the Sheraton Hotel in Damascus. President Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma al-Assad voted Wednesday in the People’s Assembly elections at a voting centre in al-Assad Library in Damascus.
In a statement to the media as he left the voting centre, President al-Assad said, ‘The Syrian people are engaged in a war that has been going on for five years, through which terrorism managed to shed innocent blood and destroy much infrastructure, but it failed in achieving the primary goal it was assigned, which is destroying the principle structure in Syria, meaning the social structure of the national identity.
‘This is why the terrorists’ employers and masters moved in a parallel direction under a political headline whose main goal is to undermine this social structure and undermine the national identity, which are expressed by the constitution,’ said Assad.
He continued: ‘The Syrian people have been aware during the past years of that point, which is why we saw the citizens’ enthusiasm to participate in all previous constitutional requirements whether they were the presidential elections or the legislative elections, and this is what we see today as well with the wide-scale participation by all elements of society, particularly in the matter of running for the elections, as this year saw an unprecedented number compared to any parliamentary elections in Syria throughout the past decades.’
He pointed out that participation in these elections involved all components of society, and at the forefront of them are families that lost their children because of terrorism and families of martyrs and wounded people who sacrificed their lives or bodies in defence of the homeland, adding ‘the homeland, its land, people, and institutions, and what brings all these elements together is the constitution.
‘Because of all that, you see us participating today by voting together, which is the first time we do so as the President and his wife, and it’s natural for us to be among those contributing today in this requirement as Syrian citizens defending the constitutional requirement with all that the constitution represents to us, whether as two Syrians or as Syrians as a whole.’
He added: ‘Also, it is natural to witness great enthusiasm among citizens, which is what we saw in the first hours of these elections.’ Walls across the capital Damascus were covered with campaign posters. From the top of one of the city’s tallest buildings, a banner proclaimed: ‘The elections of resistance.’
‘I voted because this election will decide the country’s future. I hope that the winners will be true to the nation even before being true to the voters,’ Yamin al-Homsi, a 37-year-old who voted in Damascus, said. Samer Issa, a taxi driver, said he had ‘fulfilled his national duty’ by casting his vote.
‘Now, it’s up to the winners to fulfil their promises,’ the 58-year-old added. The polls coincide with the beginning of a second round of UN-brokered indirect talks between the Syrian government and the opposition in Geneva, with the future of President Assad being a key sticking point.
The foreign-backed Syrian opposition says Assad must step down before a transitional government can be established. Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem has said the fate of President Assad remains a ‘red line’ for the Syrian government in the Geneva talks. The last round of the UN-backed peace talks for Syria came to a halt on March 24 over disagreements on the role of Assad in Syria’s future.
Vice President Dr. Najah al-Attar affirmed on Wednesday that the parliamentary elections are a memorable event held in high regard by all Syrians. In a statement after casting her vote, al-Attar said that President Bashar al-Assad’s national and genuine stance is to ask the Syrians to choose candidates who represent them in the best way and work to achieve the Syrians’ goals. We hope that those who bear the nation’s message and who work to serve their homeland and people will win in the elections,’ Dr. al-Attar added.
In Aleppo, voting centres opened their doors to voters at 7am. Later in the day, the Higher Judicial Committee for Elections announced the decision to extend vote-casting for five hours until 12:00 midnight at all polling centres due to massive turnout. SANA’s correspondents in the provinces confirmed that voting centres are witnessing strong and increasing turnout.
Meanwhile, The Executive Council of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has unanimously adopted a Russian-drafted resolution on the role of UNESCO in restoring and preserving the ancient city of Palmyra and other Syrian heritage sites.
On March 27th, units of the army in cooperation with popular defence groups restored security and stability to Palmyra and established control over the archaeological city and the airport after fierce fighting during which the ISIS terrorist organisation suffered heavy losses in personnel and munitions.
ISIS terrorists had inflicted deliberate acts of vandalism on historical structures and landmarks in Palmyra, including tomb towers, the Arch of Triumph, the Temple of Bel, the Temple of Baalshamin and the statue of the Lion of al-Lat.
The council’s secretariat said in a statement that the Russian-proposed draft resolution was unanimously adopted on Tuesday evening. The resolution titled ‘On the role of UNESCO in restoring and preserving Palmyra and other Syrian cultural heritage sites’ was put forth last Friday within the 199th session of the organisation’s executive council which opened in Paris on April 4 and is set to last until April 15.
Russia’s Permanent Delegate to UNESCO Eleonora Mitrofanova said the draft document includes primarily required steps to define the cost of reconstruction of Palmyra and other Syrian heritage sites, pointing out that work can start once security conditions allow that. The United Nations demanded security for its experts working in such historical sites,’ Mitrofanova indicated.
She pointed out that Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed that Russia provides security for the experts who would go to Palmyra, and said the best way to do that is to have assistance from specialised experts at the Beirut office and the Regional Centre for World Heritage in Bahrain.
Mitrofanova noted that UNESCO has established a fund for reconstruction in Syria and has collected euro 2.700 million so far, indicating that the expenses of restoration would not be from the UNESCO budget. Earlier, Syria’s Permanent representative to UNESCO, Ambassador Lamia Shakkour, said at the 199th session of the UNESCO Executive Council that Syria is ready to join UNESCO in its efforts to restore the ancient city of Palmyra after it was recaptured from ISIS and called upon friendly countries to mobilise efforts in order to preserve and revive the cultural heritage of this historic city.
• A top Syrian official has rejected the ‘dream’ of a transitional government without President Bashar al-Assad, saying that such ideas are nothing short of a ‘coup d’etat’.
‘This will not happen, not now, nor tomorrow, nor ever,’ Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said.
‘We believe such an idea has failed, it is outdated, it will never be acceptable. This amounts in fact to a coup d’etat. People organise a certain rebellion and then they get power. This will never happen in Syria,’ he added. He went on to note that for the peace talks to proceed, ‘factual, actual solutions’ most be reached. This includes the possibility of establishing a national unity government or a broad government that includes members of the opposition,’ he said.