President Bashar al-Assad has won a fourth term after winning Syria’s presidential election, generally binned as a farcical exercise by his detractors, whose number is legion. It shall not be easy to shore up his reputation in the perspective of the comity of nations; suffice it to register that he will exploit his inhouse constituency to the extent possible, and in parallel to his repressive rule, Russia’s meddling from the skies and the prevarication of the United Nations.
Mr Assad has won 95.1 per cent of the votes, and the turnout was 78.6 per cent. His two challengers, Abdullah Salloum Abdullah and Mahmoud Ahmed Mari, gained 1.5 per cent and 3.3 per cent of the vote respectively. Syria’s opposition called the vote a farce, while the US and European countries said it was not free or fair.
This was gross understatement, to say the least. As he cast his ballot last Wednesday, Assad said the West’s opinion counted for “zero”, a testament to the intrinsically defiant attitude of a repressive dictator. Syria has been devastated by a decade-long conflict that erupted after Assad’s government responded with deadly force to peaceful pro-democracy protests in March 2011 in the wake of the Arab Spring. The fighting has left at least 388,000 people dead and caused half the population to flee their homes, including almost six million refugees abroad.
The election was held in government-controlled areas of the country and in some Syrian embassies overseas. It is pretty obvious that the presidential election has stoked a summer of discontent in beleaguered Damascus and further afield. A robust protest against the election was held in the rebel-controlled Idlib province, while the country’s exiled opposition called the vote a farce.
Yahya al-Aridi, spokesman for the Syrian Negotiation Commission, said that it showed “contempt towards the Syrian people”. “It’s a decision by the government, aided by Russia and Iran, to kill the political process,” he said. “It’s a continuation of tyranny. This is the price we had to pay for freedom”.
At another remove, the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Italy, the UK and the United States released a joint statement before the vote, calling it “illegitimate” and saying it would be “neither free nor fair” without the supervision of the United Nations. Which entity, one is inclined to add, did not intervene even at the peak of the Syrian crisis.
It was a statement of no-confidence against the presidential palace in Damascus. It is pretty obvious too that the tide of the war has turned decisively in Assad’s favour.