On Wednesday, Syrians will return to the polling booths for a sham democratic display designed to give the president Bashar al-Assad a veneer of legitimacy both at home and abroad.
The regime of Bashar al-Assad has killed more than 388,000 lives and displaced half of Syria’s pre-war population. The last time, in 2014, there was no question over whether Assad would win - but with opposition forces in control of the country’s cities, as well as the suburbs of Damascus, the future of the dictator was still far from certain. Seven years later, after the intervention of Russia and Iran, the Assad’s allies, most of Syria is now back under his control. Both Iran and Russia have confirmed their support for next presidential elections in Syria.
This year’s campaigning began when more than a week ago the supreme constitutional court approved three out of 51 candidate applications. They are: Abdullah Salloum Abdullah, a former member of Syria’s legislative authority; Mahmoud Ahmad Marie, who is part of UN-sponsored peace talks in Geneva; and Assad himself.
“The elections will be used by both the regime and Russia to show that they won, and they claim Syria is safe, so refugees can return. The election is also a factor in rehabilitating the regime among Arab countries, and maybe the Arab League,” said Suhail al-Ghazi, a Syrian researcher and non-resident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.
While Assad is sure to win a fourth seven-year term, all three candidates have pledged to rebuild economic well-being, heavily hit by the war, sanctions and coronavirus pandemic, and bring the refugees home. The number of Syrians who escaped the outrage of the regime reached five million people. Abdullah also made a bold promise to tackle corruption, which, though, is systemic in Syria.
An amnesty earlier this month for more than 400 civil servants, judges, lawyers and journalists detained in a crackdown on social media dissent has been widely viewed by rights activists and the relatives of tens of thousands of people still missing in regime prisons. The amnesty turned out to be a misleading act to demonstrate democratic norms before the poll takes place.
“My brother disappeared into a regime prison in 2013. We still have no idea if he is alive or dead. They won’t give us any information,” said Saed Eido. The man lived in Aleppo but had to migrate to Turkey. “All this presidential election does is whitewash crimes and maintain a dictatorship,” he added.
A head of the Syrian Interim Government Abdurrahman Mustafa told that for 10 years Syria has been struggling for economic and humanitarian survival. According to the UN’s report issued in 2020, 90% of the Syrian people are living below the hunger threshold.
“Millions of people live in tents in difficult conditions at a time when unemployment has increased due to forceful displacements by regime forces and their allies,” he said, stressing that Syria’s economy is worse than it has ever been, with the Syrian pound further losing value. The monthly income of a person has fallen to as low as $20.
“The reason for this awful situation is not economic sanctions as the regime and its allies claim. The real reason is that the regime uses the country’s resources to attack its own people, leaving the people hungry and in poverty while handing the resources over to the use of its allies Iran and Russia,” Abdurrahman Mustafa mentioned.
Because of Assad’s regime, Syria has lost its status as a regional power. Now the country is heavily dependent on Russia, Iran and an assortment of Tehran-backed militias, including the Lebanese Hezbollah movement.
A hollow attempt at mollifying public opinion was made in 2014’s presidential elections, when the regime allowed multiparty elections for the first time - but Assad ‘won’ nearly 90% of the vote after a campaign in which one of the opposition candidates told voters the incumbent should remain president.
The upcoming elections will wipe out the results of UN efforts aimed at ending the war, including forming a transitional governing body and rewriting the Syrian constitution in order to hold free and fair elections subject to international monitoring.
The parliaments of Russia, Iran, Venezuela, Belarus, Algeria, Oman, Mauritania, Armenia, Cuba, China, South Africa, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Bolivia will be invited to observe this May elections.