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Damascus quiet, security heightened with ‘low turnout’

June 3, 2014 As pro-government media touted Tuesday’s presidential elections […]

3 June 2014

June 3, 2014

As pro-government media touted Tuesday’s presidential elections as a triumph for Syrian democracy despite the unabated violence around the country, a coalition of hardline Islamist groups backed off an earlier pledge and decided not to target polling places.

Syria Direct’s Osama Abu Zeid and Mohammed al-Haj Ali spoke with Syrians in Damascus and the northeastern city of al-Hasakah who described heightened security and an atmosphere more like “a tribute, and not a presidential election.”

Abu Hamza, 26, lives with his family in central Damascus.

There is not a lot of movement in the streets today. The turnout for the elections in Damascus is generally low, but in some areas, like [military stronghold and affluent, pro-regime] al-Mezze, the turnout is strong.

Of course, there is an abundance of security; I noticed an increase of security and army forces both in the streets and at checkpoints.

A few people went out at 8:00 a.m. to vote – there were around seven to 10 people at the al-Mezze polling place in the morning, though larger numbers later in the day. The first thing, they of course take your identity card, then they give you an envelope with the ballot, which has photos of the candidates on it.

Afterwards, you are supposed to walk to a private room for transparency, but there were not any rooms, nor did anyone ask to enter one. Then, voters move to another employee [of the voting station], who registers information on the identity of the voter in his notebook. Then, the voter dips his finger in an well of dark-blue ink, and practices his right to a secret vote.

Ballot_box_2.jpgA ballot featuring Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and opposition candidates Hassan a-Noura and Maher Hajjar leans against a ballot box in Damascus Tuesday. Photo courtesy of a-Safir.

Abu Mustafa, 22, works with pro-opposition network “Pulse of the Capital” in government-held sections of Damascus.

The streets of Damascus today are empty of its citizens and mostly devoid of vehicle traffic. Assad’s forces have removed cars and all means of transportation from public squares, especially squares with voting places. They are afraid of car bombs.

There are many checkpoints, and at every voting center there are shabiha.

More than 40 shells have fallen on Damascus as of now.

Turnout is very low; a quarter [of people] went. We can sort them into categories: Some are members of security forces or shabiha, they are the beneficiaries of the [current] situation. Another part are the citizens and students, who are scared of any measures that might be taken if they did not vote, for instance, being detained and arrested at checkpoints, or being forbidden to travel, or being persecuted.

Islam al-Khafaji, 27, is a reporter with the al-Hasakeh News Center, an independent, moderate news outlet in al-Hasakeh province, where the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), ISIS and Syrian government are all vying for control.

Al-Hasakah woke up today to a complete closure of all roads leading into the city, where heavy security preparations and army patrols were spread out in all streets and alleys, inspecting pedestrians and turning away cars.

Voting centers began accepting voters around 7 am. Some saw good turnouts, and it seems some centers turned into venues for popular dances, with chanting from supporters of Doctor Bashar al-Assad, as though it was like a tribute and not a presidential election with three competitors.

The PYD and [Kurdish militias] shut down multiple election centers and attacked some government employees responsible for them. They also expelled civilians gathered to cast their votes, and prevented people from surrounding villages from reaching the heart of the city to participate in the elections.

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