Damascus streets empty amidst heightened security for elections


June 4, 2014

June 4, 2014

Pro-government Syrians packed the streets in selected neighborhoods of Damascus Tuesday, turning out to vote, with some even marking their ballots in blood,  for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

But Syria’s war continues unabated, with no voting in the estimated 40 percent of Syria that lies outside government control. At least 130 shells fell on the Syrian capital Tuesday, killing three, while Syrian warplanes dropped barrel bombs on the  rebel-held suburbs of Daraya and a-Zabadani.

In Damascus, “the atmosphere was tense,” pro-opposition journalist Susan Ahmed, a former member of the Revolutionary Command Council in Greater Damascus, tells Syria Direct’s Mohammed al-Haj Ali.

In contrast to the jubilant election day portrayed by Syrian state media, Ahmed describes a quiet, tense capital with people staying in their homes and warplanes flying low overhead throughout the day.

Q: How did the streets of Damascus look during the election?

The streets of Damascus were generally empty, and there was anxiety and fear among the civilians. Since morning, warplanes have been flying very low over the city. Few are leaving their homes except for workers forced to go out, and university students who were forced by the Ministry of Education to take  final exams.

The atmosphere was tense. As of Monday, people stopped leaving their houses, especially when mortars fell on several neighborhoods in Damascus. Some campaign photos were taken down, and the colors of the Army and Assad forces’ uniforms dominated the city. The number of checkpoints increased and the already-existing checkpoints were enforced by more sandbags at greater heights.

Blood_election.jpgA cartoon depicts an unknown hand voting for “Bashar” in what pro-opposition Syrians have labeled Syria’s “blood elections.” Photo courtesy of Syrian Caricatures.

Q: Were there any monitoring groups present?

I am not sure…but any supervision on illegal elections is null and meaningless.

If the whole election process is illegitimate and if millions of people are being bombed during the elections themselves, what type of elections are we really talking about?  During the elections, millions of Syrians were under barrel bombs, and others were refugees, displaced or robbed of the simplest human rights – except for the right to vote.   

Q: Why did people vote?

People are forced to. The regime forced them not to be absent from their work, by making them sign formal papers requiring them to attend work on the day of elections. Student IDs for exams were taken away, to be returned after they had voted. And of course, loyalists were gathered by the regime to vote in front of cameras and media outlets.

Q: Did anyone vote for any candidate other than al-Assad?

I spoke with many people and everyone says they were forced to participate in the elections, so there was no choice for them except to vote for Bashar.

Everyone is completely convinced that the other candidates were merely regime stooges for theatrical elections. You notice in their statements, in each interview they praise Bashar, and say only the president is sovereign. They are completely aware that they have no chance in this country, and are merely regime tools.

Q: What was the scene in rebel-held areas on the day of elections? Or in areas with a truce?

The regime does not have any presence in the liberated areas, even those with a truce, and they are not a part of the so-called electoral process.

Densely populated, liberated neighborhoods witnessed heavy shelling beginning in the morning. More than eight barrel bombs fell on a-Zabadani and Daraya [in the Damascus suburbs]. 

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