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Middle East

Syria’s Assad wins presidential poll with landslide 88.7%

© Photo: AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-06-05

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been re-elected with 88.7% of the vote, the country’s parliament speaker announced on Wednesday, securing a third term in office amid a brutal civil war.

Announcing the results on Wednesday evening, parliament speaker Jihad Laham said Assad's two challengers, Hassan al-Nuri and Maher Hajjar, won 4.3% and 3.2% of the vote respectively.

Earlier on Wednesday, the country’s Supreme Constitutional Court said voter turnout was 73.42%.

The results of Tuesday’s vote came as no surprise in an election that was only held in areas under army control with regime opponents excluded from running.

Shortly after the speaker announced the results in a televised address from his office in the Syrian parliament, celebratory gunfire erupted in the capital of Damascus, with supporters chanting the familiar chant: “With our souls, with our blood, we sacrifice for you, Bashar!''

Opposition activists have branded the vote a “blood election,” while the country reels from a brutal conflict that has killed more than 162,000 people in more than three years.

The opposition’s Western and regional allies, including the US, Britain, France, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, have dismissed the vote as a farce, with US Secretary of State John Kerry describing Tuesday’s election as “a great big zero”.

The EU also issued a statement describing the vote as “illegitimate” and an attempt to “undermine the political efforts to find a solution to this horrific conflict".

Rivals hoping for second or third place

The other two presidential candidates were approved by the regime and in the lead-up to Tuesday’s vote, expressed no hopes that they would beat the incumbent.

The Assad clan has ruled Syria with an iron fist for more than 40 years. All dissent has been systematically crushed during that time, with Assad’s father, Hafez, notoriously annihilating a Muslim Brotherhood-led rebellion in Hama in the 1980s. Tens of thousands of alleged dissidents have been imprisoned over the decades.

Days before the vote, Nuri, who studied in the US and speaks English, told AFP news agency he expected to come second after Assad, who is sure to win.

Both he and Hajjar issued only light criticism of Assad’s rule, for fear of being linked to an opposition branded “terrorist” by the regime, focusing instead on corruption and economic policy.

New rules, old political game

In theory, Tuesday’s poll was Syria’s first election in nearly 50 years. The Assads have previously been “elected” in single-candidate referendums with ballots featuring a yes-no choice.

In 2000, when Bashar succeeded his father Hafez, he earned 97.29 percent of the vote. In 2007, he won 97.62 percent.

Tuesday’s election was the first since a new constitution was adopted in February 2012 – almost a year after an anti-Assad uprising broke out in the southern Deraa province.

In an interview with FRANCE 24 just days before the election, Antoine Basbous, director of the Observatory of Arab Countries, described the new election rules as an “obvious smokescreen”.

Under the rules, presidential candidates had to have lived continuously in Syria for the past decade, a rule that excluded political opponents in exile from running. Candidates also had to obtain the support of at least 35 deputies in the 250-member parliament, which is under Assad’s control.

"The whole exercise is hypocritical. The country has been completely privatised by the Assad clan," said Basbous. "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.”

'People first'

 The United Nations’ aid chief appealed to Assad following the result to put his country’s people first after the warring parties in the three-year conflict ignored UN Security Council demands for greater humanitarian access.

About 9.3 million people in Syria need help, and 2.5 million have fled, according to the UN. Aid chief Valerie Amos told a news conference that some 241,000 people were still trapped in areas besieged mostly by government forces. As Assad’s re-election for a third term with almost 89 percent of the vote was announced on Wednesday, Amos said: “If I were able to speak to him right now, I would say ‘Put the people of Syria first’.”

“If you put the people of Syria first, then I think the rest falls from that in terms of our ability to make sure people are properly fed, that they have enough water, that they have proper sanitation, that they have healthcare,” Amos said.

Amos said a Security Council resolution adopted in February aimed at obtaining greater aid access had failed. It was legally binding but not under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which would have made it enforceable with military action or economic sanctions.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-06-04

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