Syria is holding its “presidential election” on Wednesday, a farcical exercise denounced by international observers but touted by incumbent “President” Bashar Assad as a glorious exercise of popular will.
Assad is heavily favored to win, in part because his aggressive reelection campaign strategy included killing, imprisoning, and exiling a great many of the people who might have voted against him.
Assad is currently in his third term as president after inheriting the office from his late father Hafez Assad in 2000. He “won” reelection in the last election seven years ago with 88 percent of the vote.
The BBC wryly noted that Assad technically has two challengers, but one of them is an apparatchik from Assad’s ruling coalition, Abdullah Salloum Abdullah, who sounds terrified at the prospect that anyone might actually vote for him. In one of his last pre-election TV interviews, Abdullah made it clear he did not wish to be in the race and was not “running for the position against any other candidate, but beside them.”
The other challenger, Mahmoud Ahmed Marei, described himself as a member of the “patriotic opposition,” but he is an obscure figure with little visible support, and his tiny party is officially sanctioned by the Assad regime. Some opposition leaders claimed Marei’s presence on the ballot was unconstitutional because he was not a permanent resident of Syria for the past ten years as required.
Syria’s highest court arbitrarily disqualified the other 49 candidates who attempted to get on the ballot in early May.
The United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Italy released a joint statement on Tuesday night condemning the Syrian election as “neither free nor fair.”
“We denounce the Assad regime’s decision to hold an election outside of the framework described in U.N. Security Council Resolution 2254 and we support the voices of all Syrians, including civil society organisations and the Syrian opposition, who have condemned the electoral process as illegitimate,” the statement said.
The U.N. resolution in question demands outside supervision of Syrian elections to ensure “the highest international standards of transparency and accountability,” and requires provisions for displaced and expatriate Syrians to participate.
“Without these elements, this fraudulent election does not represent any progress towards a political settlement. We urge the international community to unequivocally reject this attempt by the Assad regime to regain legitimacy without ending its grave human rights violations and meaningfully participating in the U.N.-facilitated political process to end the conflict,” the joint statement declared.
Kurdish news service Rudaw noted Tuesday that Kurdish political parties and the “pro-Turkey opposition” also denounced the election. Kurdish officials in northeastern Syria, which the Kurds refer to as Rojava, have refused to participate in the election.
Bashar Assad himself cast his “vote” in the city of Douma near Damascus — an ostentatious display of defiance against the Western world, as Douma was the scene of an alleged chemical weapons deployment by Syrian government forces that inspired punitive airstrikes by the United States, Britain, and France.
Assad said voting in Douma marked his “first visit after liberation” of the city from rebel forces. Syrian government troops took Douma with Russian assistance in the spring of 2018.
At a press conference after casting his ballot, Assad offered his congratulations to Douma residents for “liberation from terrorism and on their return to the homeland, and their contribution with their brothers in the rest of areas which have been liberated in restoring life to normal, even gradually, and in participating in national entitlements whether the latest elections of the People’s Assembly or the presidential elections today.”
The dictator said the Western world’s opinion of Syria’s election counted for “zero.” He accused the West of trying to dismantle his country by supporting the civil war and said today’s election is “proving from Douma that the Syrian people are one.”