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Middle East

A Syrian election tailor-made for Assad


Text by Charlotte BOITIAUX

Latest update : 2014-06-03

Despite its ongoing civil war, Syria goes to the polls on Tuesday in a presidential election that offers no hint of suspense.

Although two rival candidates are also running, the current president, Bashar al-Assad, is certain to win. The election is a masquerade, Arab affairs specialist Antoine Basbous told FRANCE 24.

The election is unusual in more than one way. First, it can only be conducted in zones under government control, which at present means less than 50 per cent of the country. Second, Syria’s international status as a pariah means many of the at least 2.5 million Syrians estimated to be living abroad will be unable to vote. 

Most of the Gulf States, supporters of the Syrian opposition, have forbidden Syrians living within their borders to participate in the election. Lebanon’s decision to tell more than a million Syrian refugees that they will lose their refugee status if they cross back into Syria has been seen as a move to discourage voting at polling stations on the border.

Assad’s two opponents Maher Abdel-Hafiz Hajjar et Hassan Abdallah Al-Nouri are the first rivals he has faced in an election. Before a new constitution was adopted in February 2012, a Syrian election was in effect a one-candidate referendum on Assad rule. In 2000, when Bashar succeeded his father Hafez, he earned 97.29 percent of the vote. In 2007, he won 97.62 percent.

Assad casts his vote
Screenshot from Syrian TV

The new rules are "obviously" a smokescreen, Basbous, the director of the Observatory of Arab Countries, told FRANCE 24.

Syrian TV showed a smiling Assad casting his vote in the Damascus neighbourhood al-Maliki, where he lives.

Limited field

Presidential candidates have had to meet strict conditions that have kept the field limited. They must have lived continuously in Syria for the past decade, a rule that assures political opponents in exile cannot run. Candidates also had to obtain the support of at least 35 deputies in the 250-member parliament, which is under Assad’s control.

"This might appear to be a more open system, but in practice the election is locked up," Basbous said. "The constitution has been designed so that the future president can only be Bashar al-Assad. If there are other candidates, they are just puppets, there to add respectability to Assad’s success."

"The whole exercise is hypocritical. The country has been completely privatized by the Assad clan," he added.

"The son controls the vote counting just as his father did before him. It’s an electoral masquerade in which the results are known in advance," said Basbous, who pointed out the "absurdity" of organising a vote during a civil war which has made 45 percent of the population either overseas refugees or internal exiles.

"How can you vote when you are under continuous bombardment and the civil administration has evaporated ?” asked Basbous.

"His first mandate was a legal fake, his third will be as well,” Basbous added refering to the constitutional changes.

Before the 2000 election, the Ba’ath Party, which is controlled by the Assad clan, changed the constitution to allow Bachar to run after his father, who had reigned for 30 years, died.

"At the time, Bachar wasn’t old enough to run,” Basbous said. “He was just 34. The constitution required that presidential candidates be over 40. Parliament rewrote the country’s fundamental laws. A dozen years later they have repeated the trick. They’ve changed the constitution to give the appearance of a more open democracy while really only serving their own interests."


Date created : 2014-06-03


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