Syria’s ruling party wins expected majority in parliamentary polls

Syrians went to the polls Sunday to elect a new parliament as the Damascus government grappled with international sanctions and a crumbling economy after retaking large parts of the war-torn country. (File/AFP)
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Updated 22 July 2020

Syria’s ruling party wins expected majority in parliamentary polls

  • The election comes after the Damascus government reconquered much of the territory lost at the beginning of the country’s war
  • Millions of Syrians who have fled the conflict were not eligible to vote

BEIRUT: Syria’s ruling Baath party and its allies have won a majority in parliamentary elections held across government-held areas of the war-torn country, results announced Tuesday showed.
In a widely expected victory in a vote labelled a “farce” by the exiled opposition, President Bashar Assad’s party and allied candidates on the “National Unity” list took 177 seats out of 250 in Sunday’s polls.
Turnout stood at 33 percent, down from 57 percent in 2016, electoral commission head Samer Zamreeq said.
The election comes after the Damascus government reconquered much of the territory lost at the beginning of the country’s war, but as it battles international sanctions and a crumbling economy.
Among the winners, Hussam Qatirji, a businessman under sanctions from the European Union, retained his seat.
The EU accuses him of supporting pro-regime militias, but also facilitating the trade of arms, ammunition and fuel between the regime and various actors including the Islamic State jihadist group.
More than 7,000 polling stations opened across government-held parts of Syria on Sunday, state media said, including for the first time in former opposition strongholds.
But millions of Syrians who have fled the conflict were not eligible to vote.
After nine years of war that have killed 380,000 people and forced half the pre-war population from their homes, activists and the political opposition in exile have derided the elections and its results.
“Millions of Syrians voted with their feet in their fleeing or being forcibly displaced as a result of the terrorism of Assad and his sponsors Russia and Iran,” the key opposition Syrian National Coalition said on Twitter.
Washington on Monday dismissed the elections as “stage-managed” and “unfree.”
“Syria has seen no free and fair elections since Assad’s Baath party came to power, and this year was no exception,” State Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus said.
Results came after reruns on Monday in four polling centers in Aleppo province and one in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, the official SANA news agency said.
Many of the 1,658 candidates ran on pledges to tackle sharp inflation and improve infrastructure ravaged by the conflict.
The value of the Syrian pound has plummeted on the black market in recent months, accelerated by the financial crisis in neighboring Lebanon and new US sanctions implemented last month.
Food prices in Syria have shot up by more than 200 percent in the past year and now stand at 20 times their pre-war levels, the World Food Programme says.
In a country where more than 80 percent of people already lived in poverty, the UN agency has warned Syrians are now facing an “unprecedented hunger crisis.”
The next presidential polls are expected in 2021, and candidates will need the written approval of at least 35 members of parliament.
Foreign Minister Walid Al-Muallem last month said Assad would remain in power “as long as the Syrians want him to stay.”
The vote was twice postponed from April due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has officially infected 540 people and killed 31 in government-held areas.


Yemen’s UNESCO-listed Old Sanaa houses collapse in heavy rains

Updated 57 min 18 sec ago

Yemen’s UNESCO-listed Old Sanaa houses collapse in heavy rains

  • Distinctive brown and white mud brick houses of Sanaa’s historic neighborhoods have long been under threat from conflict and neglect
SANAA: Houses in Yemen’s UNESCO-listed Old City of Sanaa are collapsing under heavy rains, as months of floods and storms assail a country already reeling from war, food shortages and disease.
The distinctive brown and white mud brick houses of Sanaa’s historic neighborhoods, which date from before the 11th century, have long been under threat from conflict and neglect.
Muhammad Ali Al-Talhi’s house partially collapsed on Friday as heavy rain battered Sanaa, leaving the six women and six children of his family homeless.
“Everything we had is buried,” he said surrounded by ancient debris and mud, appealing for help to find shelter.
Aqeel Saleh Nassar, deputy head of the Historic Cities Preservation Authority, said citizens today do not maintain these old buildings as in the past, leading to cracks and weakness.
Around 5,000 of the towering buildings in the old city have leaky roofs and 107 have partially collapsed roofs, he said. The authority has been working with UNESCO and other funds to preserve some.
This year’s exceptionally heavy rains, which began mid-April and last into early September, have added to what the United Nations describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Five years of war have killed more than 100,000 people, and left 80 percent of the population reliant on aid and millions on the brink of famine.
On top of the new coronavirus, which is believed to be spreading largely undetected, heavy rains spread diseases like cholera, dengue fever and malaria.
The Iran-aligned Houthi authorities who have controlled Sanaa since ousting the internationally recognized Saudi-backed Yemeni government in late 2014, appealed this week to UNESCO to save the city’s heritage.
They said around 111 houses had partly or completely collapsed in recent weeks.
Sanaa resident Adel San’ani on Saturday told Reuters he saw five houses severely damaged this weekend.
“The families have no shelter. A local bank launched a campaign to distribute plastic sheeting to act as roofs,” he said.