Hundreds of thousands are believed exiled and dead in the Syrian civil war, and President Bashar al-Assad stands accused of using chemical weapons against civilians. But that didn’t stop the head of state from taking the time this week to pose for a group selfie while on the way to voting for himself in an election many are calling a “sham.”
In a photo that his wife, First Lady Asma al-Assad, posted on Facebook, Assad is seen smiling with a group of young Syrians, one of whom holds a camera phone in front of the group. The photo was taken at the polling station as the couple went to cast their votes for Assad.
Syrian state television covered the elections with plenty of footage of the Assads exchanging friendly chatter with those at the polling station in Maliki, a neighborhood of Damascus. According to reports, the images show that the Assads “are met by applause as they drop their ballots into the box and dip their finger in election ink.”
While the images on Syrian national television are joyous and voter turnout is expected to have been significant, both within Syria and in diaspora, many consider the election a farce and distraction from the ongoing civil war over which Assad has presided. The Syrian National Coalition, the largest opposition group in the country, announced that it would boycott the vote, while its leader Ahmad al-Jarba calls for the international community to help arm opposition groups against the Syrian military.
Meanwhile, Syrian exiles in Lebanon have staged protests against the election, noting the hundreds of thousands believed to have been killed during the civil war and Assad’s shoddy human rights record. Holding up posters reading, “Vote for the man who killed 200,000 Syrians!” some protesters even alleged that they had been warned that their homes would be destroyed should they not vote for Assad.
The United States government called the election a “sham” and has refused to recognize the results. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said, “We don’t feel it’s valid and we don’t feel the results will be valid. … We’re not going to recognize the outcome of this election and I don’t think the international community will either.”
Assad is one of three candidates approved for the presidential race this year. The other two candidates, Maher Abdul-Hafiz Hajjar and Hassan al-Nouri, are both former legislators, though both are considered to have low name recognition. It is widely expected that Assad will win the election.