Syrians vote for Assad as president in no-contest poll
by Roueida Mabardi
39 minutes ago
DAMASCUS (AFP) - Syrians were voting on Sunday in a no-contest referendum to give President Bashar al-Assad another seven years at the helm of a Middle East regional heavyweight despite an opposition boycott.
With parliament unanimously approving the candidature of the 41-year-old Assad for a second term, and with vocal opponents of the regime locked up, the referendum will inevitably annoint him as president until 2014.
The opposition, partly tolerated but with no legal status and unable to put forward candidates, said it was boycotting the referendum.
"Turnout is weak this morning, but we expect many more people later," said Ossama Bseinni, 28, an official at one ballot station in Damascus.
Polling stations opened at 0400 GMT and were due to shut at 1600 GMT but could run until 2200 GMT if large numbers turn out late. Results are expected on Monday.
Assad and his wife voted at the capital's Faculty of Medicine, as students and doctors sang his praises. "God, Syria and Bashar," chanted workers at the polling station.
Most of the stations in the capital toured by AFP journalists had booths for voting but without the curtains closed.
"I voted yes, of course. I am voting for the stability of Syria, for security and for the achievements of the regime," said Ali Ahmad, a 23-year-old hotel employee.
Another "yes" voter, Mohammed Ali Sharif, a 62-year-old pensioner, said "Syria has shown to the world it can resist in the face of foreign forces."
But lawyer Hassan Abdel-Azim, spokesman for six banned parties operating under the umbrella National Democratic Rally (NDR), said that "for there to be real elections", there should be other candidates standing.
"The NDR will boycott the referendum... Our claims for an amendment to the electoral law have not been taken into account," he said.
The referendum, in which about 12 million Syrians are eligible to vote, is the second for Assad.
In July 2000, he was the sole candidate to succeed his father Hafez who had died the previous month. The official result then showed that Bashar received 97.29 percent of voter support.
Voters are being asked to respond whether they "approve the candidacy of Dr Bashar al-Assad for the post of president of the republic."
With Syria under emergency law since the Baath party came to power in 1963 and opposition parties banned, authorities have clamped down on pro-democracy activists, drawing criticism from Washington and the European Union.........