People in France are voting in the first round of their presidential election today. Sarkozy, Royal, Bayrou, Le Pen, Bove - it's quite a choice. But choice is not something available to voters in the former French colony of Syria, where parliamentary elections are taking place. It's safe to say it won't be too much of a surprise if President Assad's Ba'ath Party remains in control of the oddly-Soviet sounding Council Of The People.
With all the attention on Iran over the last year or two, Syria's re-emergence as a pretty major annoyance in the Middle East has gone a bit un-noticed. A few years back, with the wet-behind-the-ears Assad new in the job and following the crushing military defeat suffered by his Ba'athist bedfellows in Baghdad, it looked possible that Damascus was next on the list of capitals to be subjected to regime change.
But it's all different now. The assassination of ex-Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri proves Assad's father's old mates can still do as they please. Syria's support for Hizbollah, and the credibility that group gained around the Middle East by their fighting of Israel to a standstill, confirms Syria's renewed influence. It's every bit as meddlesome now as it ever was in the old days. And regime change seems about as likely as a Ba'athist defeat today.