DAMASCUS - Syrians voted in a parliamentary election on Monday touted by authorities as a milestone of political reform but dismissed by the opposition as a facade while people are killed every day in an anti-government uprising.
Violence persisted across the country between forces loyal to President Bashar Assad and rebels fighting to end four decades of dynastic rule by his family.
"All of this is a theater show. The candidates are businessmen and pawns of strong people in power," one man, who asked to remain anonymous, told Reuters near a polling station in the capital.
In northern Idlib province, residents reported gunfire and explosions and in the city of Hama rebels and soldiers clashed early on Monday, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
In the eastern province of Deir al-Zor, three dissidents were killed in a dawn raid by government troops, the Observatory added, underlining the challenge of holding a credible poll and complicating the task of UN observers monitoring a ceasefire declared on April 12.
Opposition figures are boycotting the vote
Unlike autocratic leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen who were toppled by the Arab Spring, Assad has kept enough support among the military and his Alawite sect, which dominates the army and security apparatus, to withstand the 14-month-old revolt.
Assad dismisses the uprising as the work of foreign-backed "terrorists" and, counting on the diplomatic support of longtime ally Russia, says he will carry out his own reform program. But the ferocity of the crackdown has appalled people across the globe and many foreign governments have urged him to step down.
Since succeeding his father Hafez Assad in 2000, Assad has relied on a pliant parliament to rubber-stamp the will of the ruling family in the majority Sunni Muslim country.
The assembly currently does not have a single opposition member and official media said half the seats would be reserved for "representatives of workers and peasants," whose unions are controlled by Assad's Baath Party.
Opposition figures are boycotting the vote, saying Syria's revised constitution - which allowed new political parties to be set up this year - has changed nothing.
Authorities say 14 million people are eligible to vote, including expatriates, and 7,195 candidates are fighting for a 250-seat parliament.