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Most Syrians oppose external forces interfering in their country's internal affairs and want an end to the violence
On May 7, Syria held its first parliamentary elections since a new constitution creating a multi-party system was approved by a referendum in February. A total of 7,195 candidates, including 710 women, competed for the 250 seats in the legislature. The Syrian government invited more than 200 observers and journalists from around the world to observe and report on the elections. I visited eight polling stations on election day and felt that in general the election was well-organized and voters were allowed to vote freely.
Of the more than 10 million people eligible to cast their votes, 5.186 million participated in the election, yielding a voter turnout of 51.26 percent. The result of the election showed the status of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's ruling Baath Party is still second to none.
The participation of a number of opposition parties made these elections very different from previous elections. However, the boycott of the elections by some Syrian opposition groups and the unwillingness of some Arab and Western countries to recognize them, meant the elections were unable to mitigate the international pressure on the Syrian government.
On May 8, I visited Homs, where the Syrian government troops and opposition were engaged in fierce fighting at the beginning of the year, and met the governor of Homs province. On May 10, two bombs exploded on a ring road close to a government intelligence agency in Damascus, causing numerous deaths and injuries. I saw cars burn at the scene of the bomb blasts and the carnage was indescribable.
After extensive contact with the Syrian government, the opposition forces and the general public throughout the country, I have three observations to make.
First, the majority of Syrian people want peace and stability. The Syrian economy depends mainly on oil exports and tourism. The sanctions on oil exports and the lack of tourists has seriously damaged the Syrian economy. The people I spoke to all expressed the desire for an end to the violence and the quick restoration of social and economic stability, although the Syrian economy has considerable resiliency and external sanctions will not fundamentally destroy it.
Second, most Syrian people are opposed to foreign interference and believe it has encouraged the violence. They oppose the meddling of external forces in Syria's internal affairs and believe that Syria's future should be determined by the Syrian people.
Some overseas opposition groups, such as the National Council of Syria, whose leaders hold the passports of other countries, such as France and Turkey, strongly advocate foreign military intervention, but they have very limited influence in Syria. Some other domestic opposition groups, although they are very dissatisfied with the Assad government and strongly demand political reform, are not in favor of foreign intervention, and want the crisis to be resolved by political means to safeguard the unity of Syria.
Third, people expect change. Many Syrian people believe that the crisis is a result of the country's rigid domestic political system and rampant corruption. The new constitution opened an era of political pluralism in Syria and to a degree complied with the demand for reform. In this sense, the holding of multi-party parliamentary elections is a positive step in easing the Syrian crisis and is conducive to creating a favorable atmosphere for dialogue between the government and opposition.
Nevertheless, there are still serious challenges to be overcome. The implementation of the peace plan proposed by Kofi Annan, the special envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League, is still facing resistance.
In particular, a number of external forces blame the government for the violence and support the opposition forces with funds and weapons. Because of this, suicide bombings in Syria are increasing.
The UN Security Council has issued a statement condemning "in the strongest possible terms" the massacre of civilians in the Syrian town of Houla, during which more than 100 people, including women and children, were killed. But it is unfair to blame the Syrian government before an investigation has been carried out.
The prospects for a peaceful end to the Syrian crisis are still not good, but the ongoing political reforms are an important step toward this and external forces have neither the right to "pull up seedlings", nor any reason to snuff out the reforms.
The international community should provide more support, encouragement and supervision, so as to resolve the crisis as soon as possible and let the Syrian people return to their normal lives.
The author is vice-president of China Institute of International Studies.
(China Daily 06/04/2012 page8)