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Assad Re-election Virtually Assured

  • Kent Klein

Syria is holding the first multi-candidate presidential election in its history. But, experts see almost no chance that President Bashar al-Assad will lose his bid for a third seven-year term.

Syrians in Lebanon and elsewhere have been voting in the presidential election, and Syrians in government-held parts of their country will cast ballots next Tuesday.

Most of those voting appear to be supporting President Assad.

"We came to practice our normal right of voting. We are surely all with the president, Doctor Bashar al-Assad, and we all prove that we are Syrians," said a voter.

But many of those who oppose Assad, like these protesters in Jordan, are boycotting the election.

"This is a farce, these elections are a farce. What will change? If he thinks these people are here voting for him out of love, then he is stupid," said Um Moataz.

More than 160,000 people have died in Syria's three-year civil war. Another 2.5 million have fled the country. Many who remain are unable to vote.

Many Syrian expatriates voting for Assad are doing so because they're worried about their families back home, according to David Schenker, Director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

"In places like Lebanon, the expatriates are, in fact, being intimidated. Hezbollah is present. Syrian intelligence officials are present. There are reports of intimidation. But overall, I think most people see this as the farce that it is," said Schenker.

Schenker says Assad's opponents do not present a real choice.

"He's running against two candidates, both of whom have been hand-chosen, one of whom is running on a platform for bank reform. The other candidate openly endorses Bashar Assad for president. So this is not a real presidential election," he said.

Some experts believe Assad's almost certain re-election will help him derail an international plan for a negotiated solution to the Syrian crisis in favor of a deal on his terms.

But Thomas Mattair, Executive Director of the Middle East Policy Council, says it will not boost the Assad government's standing in the region or the world.

"The opposition will not accept him simply because he wins an election. And neither will his neighbors, who are opposing him, and neither will the United States," said Mattair.

The U.S. government has called the vote "a parody of democracy."
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