“Staging”election “Neither free nor fair” : Westerners have already rejected the ballot, the second of its kind since the start, in 2011, of a war that left more than 388,000 dead and drove millions of Syrians into exile. Unsurprisingly in a country devastated and mired in an economic crisis, Syria voted on Wednesday, May 26, in regions under government control for a presidential election without suspense which should offer a fourth term of seven years to Bashar Al-Assad.
The high committee in charge of the elections, quoted by the official media, announced that at midnight local time, the polling stations had closed and that the vote count had started. Results are expected within 48 hours.
Voting in a former rebel stronghold reclaimed in 2018, the president blasted Western criticism of the ballot, with Washington and Europeans saying the election was not free. In different areas of the regime, which controls two-thirds of Syria, state media have shown images of voters massed in front of polling stations.
If officially the country has a little over 18 million voters, their number is actually lower, the war having divided the country and led to the flight abroad of millions of people.
At the University of Damascus, students who came to vote chanted the traditional pro-Assad slogans: “By our soul, by our blood, we sacrifice ourselves for you Bashar. “” I do not know the other candidates, I respect their candidacy, but my vote goes to the president “26-year-old student Kinan Al-Khatib told Agence France-Presse (AFP). “He is the only man who has stood firm in ten years of war. “
Two other candidates unknown to the general public
In front of him, two personalities considered to be stooges are in the running: the former minister and parliamentarian Abdallah Salloum Abdallah and a member of the opposition tolerated by the government, Mahmoud Mareï. The ballot de facto excludes the opposition figures in exile, very weakened, the electoral law requiring candidates to have lived in Syria for ten consecutive years.
Washington and several European powers have condemned an election that “Will be neither free nor just”. “We know that these elections are not real elections (…), there are a lot of Syrians who are displaced who will not vote, a lot of Syrians who are refugees who will not vote ”, said on France 2 the head of French diplomacy, Jean-Yves Le Drian. “It’s a decoy. “
“Your opinions are worth nothing”, replied Mr. Assad, who had been propelled to power in 2000, succeeding his father Hafez, who died after thirty years of unchallenged reign.
United Nations (UN) envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen also criticized an election being held “Under the current Constitution”. Or, “This is not part of the political process stipulated by Security Council resolution 2254” of the UN, which calls for a political transition in Syria with as a starting point the drafting of a new Constitution.
Accompanied by his wife, Asma, Mr. Assad voted in Douma, a city in eastern Ghouta, a former rebel stronghold near Damascus reconquered in 2018 and where the government was accused of having carried out a deadly chemical attack. Western retaliatory strikes were then carried out, even though Damascus had denied any responsibility.
Demonstration in Idlib
In a nation polarized by war, the Kurdish autonomous regions of the northeast are ignoring the ballot. Just like the last great jihadist and rebel stronghold of Idlib (northwest), where some three million people live. In the city of Idlib, hundreds of people demonstrated, holding up signs that read, among other things, “No legitimacy for Assad and his elections”.
In the southern province of Daraa, cradle of the 2011 uprising recaptured by the regime, a ” general strike “ was observed in several localities to denounce the ballot, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH).
If the fighting has now waned in intensity, the 2021 election is being held in the midst of an economic slump, with a historic depreciation of the currency, rampant inflation, and more than 80% of the population living in poverty, according to the ‘UN.
In a country with ruined infrastructure, Bashar Al-Assad presents himself as the man of reconstruction, after having chained military battles with the support of Russia and Iran. In 2014, he had obtained more than 88% of the votes according to the official results.