A scarred city with the wounds of war

Updated: 2012-05-17 07:46

By Li Lianxing (China Daily)

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An uncertain future

The future remains uncertain for the people of Syria. We were invited to observe the multiparty parliamentary elections, part of President Bashar Assad's series of political reforms, following on from a vote on a new constitution held three months ago. However, whether that reform process will help to ameliorate the crisis remains unclear.

The elections went smoothly in a general sense. Nearly 200 representatives from neighboring countries and emerging economies were divided into groups to attend different polling stations.

A scarred city with the wounds of war

Women cast ballot papers bearing the names of "martyrs" in symbolic coffin-like ballot boxes, during an anti-election demonstration in the city of al-Qusayr, 15 km from Homs in restive central Syria, on May 7, as polling stations opened across the country for the first "multiparty" vote in five decades. The opposition dismissed the elections as a sham and refused to participate.     

We went to eight stations in all, a number at our own request, and not at the suggestion of our minders. The people we met in the polling stations were reasonably supportive of the reform process after some opposition groups both inside and outside the country boycotted the elections, just as they did the recent vote on the new constitution.

When the people spoke about the problems the country faces, the one most frequently mentioned was corruption. However, as a researcher from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in our group observed, the crux of the crisis has little to do with the ongoing political reforms, because many Western countries and Syria's regional enemies would refuse to recognize a new constitution, while it will take time for the reforms to have any real impact on the lives of the general populace.

A scarred city with the wounds of war

A main road in Damascus damaged by the two explosions on May 10.

Syria is a highly secularized Arabic state and the prospects for further secularization and democratization hinge on religious pressures. The minorities, including Christians and members of the Alawi and Druze sects, fear that if a Muslim brotherhood were to assume power it would hamper the process of secularization. That means political reform is key to the future.

The UN mission has been seen as the last chance to solve the Syrian problem politically, but it has been seriously challenged in terms of security and no one can say if it will succeed. When asked what the government would do if the UN mission were to fail, Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi told me that the authorities would insist on further political reform and allow the people to decide their own future.

Contact the reporter at lilianxing@chinadaily.com.cn

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