April 22, 2007 / 7:43 AM / 13 years ago

Syrians vote in parliamentary elections

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Polls opened in Syria on Sunday to elect a new parliament expected to remain dominated by the ruling Baath Party.

Parliament, called the Council of the People, is elected every four years and has little say over policy. Syria has been under emergency law for four decades and no opposition parties are allowed.

The Baath, which has ruled Syria since 1963, controls all divisions of government. Power firmly rests in the hands of President Bashar al-Assad, who succeeded his late father, Hafez al-Assad, in 2000.

A majority in the 250-seat assembly is effectively reserved for the Baath. All 2,400 candidates have been vetted and approved by the government.

Dissidents, a number of whom have been imprisoned or forced into exile in the last two years, have boycotted the polls, dismissing it as a sham.

“We have no confidence we could compete freely,” Hassan Abdel Azim of the National Democratic Coalition said in statement.

The interior ministry said it had distributed 7.6 million election cards that entitled its holders to vote among a population of 19 million. Dissidents say turnout is usually low.

Voting can be extended until Monday if the government deems fit.

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