By some accounts the turnout in the Syrian parliamentary elections last weekend was as low as 10%, but no one really knows. In any case, should this really have surprised anyone? When the Syrian constitution tells people that they must always "vote" the Baath Party back into power, no wonder that most choose to stay at home and watch a movie. What prisoner would vote for his jailer? Why pretend that the jailer needs the prisoner's vote in the first place?
It is interesting that the authorities, who exercise total control over the population, have openly admitted that the turnout was low. You can tell something is not quite right. Such uncharacteristic openness really throws you off balance; have they, all of a sudden, turned honest and transparent?
In the past, people were bullied into voting so the authorities could give an air of legitimacy to the results. This time around they have played it differently. Coersion appears to have been minimal and focused on squeezing out "undesirable" free-thinking independents rather than forcing large numbers of people to vote and then rigging the results.
The new official game is all about pretending to be democratic and saturating the atmosphere with election hype and American-style fanfare (complete with cheap, over-sized poster and banner advertising) and whipping up public interest in a sterile non-event. It is all about creating a world of make-believe and engaging the public and local and foreign media in a preposterous game of charade. Everyone knows Syria is not a democracy and as long as the Baath Party and the Assad clan are around probably never will be. So, the regime dictates that we must all pretend to be democratic and act as though we were!
Anyone who is familiar with mass psychology and public control techniques cannot but admire this regime. Its ability to persuade, brainwash or force people to play along in the game of transforming real misery into pretend nirvana is legendary. When the public re-awaken, complain or resist the game becomes more outrageous and dangerous. You could be locked up and persecuted for refusing to acknowledge the leader's wisdom and celebrate his great achievements. You could be harassed for using language that sees a glass half empty rather than half full, for describing social and economic problems as they really are instead of wishing that inshallah tomorrow will be better under the astute stewardship of our rulers and for questioning official policy or decisions on any issue.
The result is complete national paralysis and impotence. The only voices that are heard in the country are those of pretenders and regime sympathisers. The brave real ones are let out only when they promise to don a mask and "play along".