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Last Updated: Sunday, 22 April 2007, 15:04 GMT 16:04 UK
Syrians unmoved by chance to vote
Syrians vote in Damascus
There are many candidates but little choice, critics say
Voting has so far been slow in Syria where a two-day election for a new parliament is under way, reports say.

Unlike the polls in Nigeria or France, there is almost no contest and voters are not showing much interest.

Two-thirds of the seats will go to the ruling Baath Party and its allies, and even state-controlled newspapers have deplored the lack of enthusiasm.

Dissidents are still in jail, a sign of little change in Syria since Bashar Assad came to power seven years ago.

The government has described the election as a showcase for Syrian democracy and has urged people to turn out to vote.

I am not going to vote - I don't know any of the candidates
Damascus resident

"I am voting because it is my national duty," Ahmed Fetouri, a 68-year-old retired teacher told the Associated Press.

But in Syria, in effect ruled by one party, there is no room for real politics, says the BBC's Kim Ghattas, a situation reflected in widespread apathy among the electorate.

"I'm not going to vote. I don't know any of the candidates. And I could make up all their slogans myself," a Damascus resident told the AFP news agency.

The election, which continues on Monday until 1100 GMT, has been condemned as a farce by opposition groups which have urged a boycott.

All candidates for the parliament, known as the Assembly of People, are vetted by the authorities.

Former political prisoners, of which there are many in Syria, are stripped of their civil rights and cannot stand in the elections or vote, and the rules make it impossible for any real independents to win.

Signs of change

For voters there is not much to talk about; there are not really any electoral platforms or ambitious promises to curb unemployment and deal with the pollution, our correspondent says.

Syrian woman walks past election poster
The election will bring little change to Syria

Even with 2,000 candidates running for 250 seats, there has not been much election fever.

Adding to voter apathy is the mostly nominal role of the parliament - it cannot give or withdraw confidence to the government; it cannot draft laws, only debate those sent to it by the government; and it has no say in foreign policy.

Its first task will be to approve the Baath Party nomination of the president, Bashar Assad, for a second seven-year term.

Mr Assad will be the only candidate in a July referendum, but the authorities have described the elections as free and truly democratic.

But there is one thing that is different in these elections - never before have Syrians so openly voiced their lack of interest in the polls, and that is a sign that perhaps something is changing in Syria, our correspondent says.

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