Jane Kinninmont writes: Middle Eastern rulers are well acquainted with the arts of cosmetic reform. But Syria’s electoral charade is only likely to anger the opposition. On Tuesday, the UN peace envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, gave a sobering press conference saying that torture in Syria was worsening, that the government still appeared to be using heavy weapons, and that there is a high risk of civil war. His spokesman added that there are credible reports that Syrians who speak to the UN observers – who number just 60 – are at risk of being arrested or even killed.
The same day, the head of the Red Cross said 1.5 million Syrians were in need of humanitarian aid; and opposition activists at the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 800 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since the internationally brokered “ceasefire” began on 25 April. The Turkish prime minister, Recip Erdogan, said there had been 10,000 deaths, 25,000 refugees in Turkey and 100,000 in Jordan, and that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is “finished”.
Meanwhile, in Damascus, officials enthused about the country’s parliamentary election, held on Monday. The ever-friendly Tehran Times described the “environment of democracy” and quoted the interior minister saying there were “no problems, except some minor things that usually occur in elections”. The Syrian government will be hoping that the election will help it to regain legitimacy and marginalise an opposition it continues to brand as terrorists and thugs. It follows a February referendum on constitutional amendments that – in theory – ended the one-party rule of the Syrian Ba’ath, and limited any holder of the presidency to a maximum of two seven-year terms (Assad has been in office for 12 years). The government also formally lifted the emergency law that had been in place in Syria for decades. But in the context of the uprising and the subsequent state-led violence, it’s clear these “reforms” are too little, too late.