A record 51 applicants put their name forward for the top job, but the country’s Supreme Constitutional Court ruled only three candidates were eligible to run for president: former deputy cabinet minister Abdullah Salloum Adbullah, Mahmoud Ahmed Marei, the head of a small, government-approved opposition party, and Bashar Assad, who has ruled the country since the death of his father in 2000. Since Monday, thousands of people across numerous cities have reportedly taken to bombed streets in support of the man whose family has ruled the Middle East nation for the past five decades. Despite masses of cheering people carrying posters adorned with Assad’s face and waving the nation’s flag, this election falls foul of internationally recognised election standards.
“These elections are aimed at the West, taking the pattern of Western-style elections in one way or the other to give an ‘I am like you’ message,” Maan Abdul Salam, head of the Syrian think-tank ETANA, told the Reuters news agency.
But the international community has touted Wednesday’s election as a farce, as the country has so-far failed to implement the UNs 2015 resolution which sought to bring peace to the country following the Arab Spring which swept across the region and with that free and fair elections held under UN supervision.
Nor has the UN-facilitated Syrian Constitutional Committee — which disbanded in January 2021 due to lack of progress — managed to achieve its mandate of attaining peace in the country and the adoption of a new constitution.
However, between the end of the UN-initiative in January and the May election, little has changed. “The UN is not involved in this election and has no mandate to be,” Jenifer Fenton, spokesperson for the UN Special Envoy for Syria, told DW ahead of the vote. In the days before this week’s ballot, Iran — a military ally — sent a delegation to the capital, Damascus, to monitor the polls and offer some semblance of a free and fair election. To put things into perspective, the last election — in 2014 — saw Assad secure almost 89% of the vote, with turnout at more than 73%. Back then, he had two opponents. International observers dismissed the vote then as a sham, and this election is set to be no different. Syria’s two biggest allies since 2015, Russia — which has sent assistance in the form of warplanes when the regimes military might was at its weakest point in the fourth year of the country’s civil war — and Iran — whose support included fighters from Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite group backed by Tehran.
“The reelection of Assad should not be seen as a sign of strength of Assad himself, but rather as a sign of strength of Russia, as well as of Russia and Iran taking advantage of the relative inaction on the part of the West to try to push the conflict towards a resolution,” Lina Khatib, director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House, told DW.
Winning or losing Wednesday’s vote is in Russia’s hands, Khatib remarked. “Had Russia not wanted Assad to be re-elected, it could have derailed the election.” Having the 55-year-old in power is serving Moscow’s interests, “however, further down the line, if there was ever a deal made on the Syrian conflict that involves compromises on Russia’s part ... Russia would be okay with seeing Assad go,” Khatib added. Assad is all too aware he will one day need to resume ties with regional partners. Egypt is already in favor of Syria’s readmission to the Arab League — which was suspended in November 2011 over its failure to end the bloodshed — while the United Arab Emirates reopened their embassy in Damascus in 2018 and Oman reappointed its envoy to Syria late last year.
“There is a desire to move towards normalisation, to try and bring Syria back into the Arab fold and dilute Iranian and Turkish regional influence,” Julien Barnes-Dacey, director of the Middle East and North Africa programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told DW. However, given the current US sanctions, it does not seem likely that more tangible agreements are realistic anytime soon.
This article was provided by Deutsche Welle