News / Middle East

Losing Election Not an Option for Syrian President

A Syrian national living in Beirut holds a ballot paper with pictures of the three presidential candidates, (from L-R) Maher Abdul-Hafiz Hajjar, Hassan Abdallah al-Nouri and Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, as she casts her vote ahead of the June 3 presidential election at the Syrian Embassy in Yarze, east of Beirut, Lebanon, May 28, 2014.
A Syrian national living in Beirut holds a ballot paper with pictures of the three presidential candidates, (from L-R) Maher Abdul-Hafiz Hajjar, Hassan Abdallah al-Nouri and Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, as she casts her vote ahead of the June 3 presidential election at the Syrian Embassy in Yarze, east of Beirut, Lebanon, May 28, 2014.
Cecily Hilleary
As Syrians go to the polls this week amid civil war, the presidential victor is all but assured: Bashar al-Assad.

So why bother holding an election at all?

Analysts say Assad has more to gain than votes. He is trying to display political solidarity to the world and to ignore the apolitical transition that the West has called for.


Watch related video report by VOA's Elizabeth Arrott

 
Syria’s Assad Set to Win Another Term as War Ragesi
X
Elizabeth Arrott
June 02, 2014 7:23 PM
Syrians vote Tuesday in an election set to secure President Bashar al-Assad a third term in office. VOA’s Elizabeth Arrott has more from our Middle East bureau in Cairo.

Narrowing the competition

The Syrian regime has taken several steps to ensure that the election works in Assad’s favor.
 
Ayman Abdel NourAyman Abdel Nour
x
Ayman Abdel Nour
Ayman Abdel Nour
In March, parliament approved a new election law which allows, for the first time, multiple candidates to run for office. ​“But the law puts conditions on persons who would like to become president,” said Ayman Abdel Nour, editor-in-chief at All4Syria.info and president of the nonprofit group,Syrian Christians for Peace

Only those who resided continuously in Syria for a decade prior to being nominated were allowed to run. This effectively eliminated the opposition in exile.

The law further stipulates that candidates be at least 40 years old, born to Syrian citizens, married to Syrian citizens and possess clean criminal records—requirements that further narrow the playing field.

“Those conditions mean that only a few people inside Syria who are totally loyal to Bashar Al-Assad,” Abdel Nour said. “So basically, he is running against himself and his entourage.”

Twenty-four candidates registered to run by the May 1 deadline. But the regime only designated two as eligible to enter the race: Parliamentarian Maher Al-Hajjar, a member of Assad’s Baath Party, and businessman Hassan Al-Nouri, a member of the opposition deemed “patriotic” to Syria.

Narrowing voter eligibility

Another step in staging the election, said Abdel Nour, is restricting who will be allowed to cast a ballot.

“If you are outside the country, you need to prove that you left Syria legally and you have a stamp on your passport,” he said. “You must also have a valid passport, which millions of Syrians don’t have—including me, my family and all of the opposition.”

If Syrians in exile want to vote, they must also have legal residency wherever they are living, which means, according to Abdel Nour, that 2.5 million Syrian refugees in Jordan, Turkey, Kurdistan and Lebanon will have no say in the election.

Syrian embassies in Amman, Beirut and other capitals opened their doors Wednesday for eligible Syrians to cast early votes.
 
Hart UhlHart Uhl
x
Hart Uhl
Hart Uhl

Hart Uhl, Program Director at the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies told VOA that crowds of voters created traffic jams in the streets of Beirut, but that voter turnout was not as large as Syrian authorities indicated.

“At least one quarter of the population living in Lebanon is now Syrian,” Uhl said, “equating to well over a million. To even think that all eligible voters would be able to cast their vote at a single polling station, the Syrian Embassy, is beyond absurd.

"The Syrian government is interested in only the appearance of mass support - having only three or four ballot boxes to receive votes at any given time creates quite a queue and accomplishes this nicely.”

Millions inside Syria will be deterred from voting by civil war. Voting will be held only in government-held areas, and it is unlikely that voters in insurgent-held areas would cross dangerous front lines and risk detention or worse.

Cementing power

Holding this kind of an election may not give a strongman political legitimacy, but experts say it will cement Assad’s political stranglehold over Syria.
 
Joshua StacherJoshua Stacher
x
Joshua Stacher
Joshua Stacher
“Basically a sham election is an internal mechanism for ordering and reconsolidating power,” said Joshua Stacher,  an assistant professor of political science at Kent State University and author of Adaptable Autocrats: Regime Power in Egypt and Syria.

“It allows for the constituent parts of the regime--political parties, security services and local strongmen in areas outside the capital--to reaffirm their solidarity with President Al-Assad,” he said. “And it also allows them to line up and get patronage.”

In addition, Stacher said, an autocratic election sends an important message to Syrian society:

It says: “We can fight a civil war for three years, we can rig an election in the middle of it, and there’s nothing you can do about it.  Do you really think you can overthrow us?’” Sacher said.

Gauging loyalty
 
Bruce Bueno de MesquitaBruce Bueno de Mesquita
x
Bruce Bueno de Mesquita
Bruce Bueno de Mesquita
Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, a New York University political scientist and author of The Dictator’s Handbook, said staged elections also provide leaders very useful information about who is loyal—and who is not.
 
“Dictators get to see things like what turnout was like in different parts of the country, what was the vote distribution in different parts of the country—that is, the actual vote distribution, as opposed to whatever may get reported outwards as one of the ways of rigging it,” Bueno de Mesquita said.  “They also get to find out which parts of the country stayed home, that is, aren’t supportive, and which turned out to vote and are supportive.”

With that information, dictators can then direct resources disproportionately to those segments of the population that give them the most support, he added.

“It is a mechanism for the leadership to find out who he wants to reward and who he wants to punish, and this, in turn, gets people who don’t support the leadership to turn out and vote for them, out of fear of the retribution,” Bueno de Mesquita said.

Impact on crisis

But most experts say that the election isn’t likely to quell the civil war, which after three years has claimed tens of thousands of lives and left millions displaced.

“This so-called election is not going to solve the Syrian civil conflict and it’s not going to stem the flow of internally and externally displaced people,” Kent State’s Sacher said.  “It’s a spectacle designed to encapsulate or regain control over a narrative, even if only temporarily.”

Nor does it matter to Assad that it will further isolate Syria from the West.

“Assad’s not isolated.  Iran supports him.  Hezbollah supports him and even the civilian apparatus in Lebanon,” Stacher said. “And there are plenty of people making money off this war now in Iraq, in Turkey and in Lebanon.”

War economies tend to keep conflicts going, Sacher said.

“And right now,” he noted, “we’re in a full-fledged war economy.”

You May Like

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows to Fight IS 'Until They Are Killed or We Die'

In wide-ranging interview with VOA Persian service reporter, Fuad Masum describes conflict as new type of fight that will take time to win More

Video Russian Anti-Corruption Campaigner Slams Putin’s Crackdown on Dissent

In interview with VOA Alexei Navalny says he believes new law against 'undesirable NGOs' part of move to keep Russian president in power More

Video On The Scene: In Ethiopia, 'Are You a Journalist?' Is a Loaded Question

VOA's Anita Powell describes the difficulties faced by reporters in fully conveying the story in a country where people are reticent to share their true opinions More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Anonymous
June 02, 2014 3:16 PM
To Ali Baba
If you think the Butcher Assad and his thugs are so wonderful, why don't you take him to your country and you'll see what he will do to you and your family. Zip it up, because you're so ignorant.

by: ali baba from: new york
June 02, 2014 1:01 PM
Bashar EL Assad is the best president to Syria. He proof that he is far better from the rebel whom they want destroy the country for radical Islam. Syria was peaceful country until the rebel get the help from Arab country. these rebel kill Christian. They forced most of the country population to flee. The story of chemical weapon is fake and the reason to created is to let USA to get involve . The rebel will turn Syria to another Afghanistan and same weapons that given to them they are going to use to kill American soldiers. wake up America ,no deal with radical Muslim. it is the mistake happen in Libya and should not repeated in Syria
In Response

by: meanbill from: USA
June 02, 2014 8:52 PM
Ali, Assad was the best President of all the Islamic countries, and Syria was all inclusive to all religions, and peoples, and all religions were free to practice their religions there -- and all people were free to live there... The US, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey wanted Assad to go, (for what ever reasons these countries have in common), only the devil knows?

by: Anonymous
June 02, 2014 12:38 PM
Most Syrians want assad held accountable for his thousands and thousands of murders. He has murdered more innocent unarmed men, women and children (non-combative casualties) than anyone else in Syria. He has also destroyed Syria and plunged it backwards 30 years. He is not allowing food and aid to people in need, and that itself is a crime.

Someone who has committed the crimes assad has committed should not be allowed to be a part of any election anywhere in the world. Instead they should serve their sentence for crimes committed, then afterwards if they wish to run they should. This would mean assad would never be able to run for any elections because he would be sentenced for all of his crimes. The number of crimes committed by assad make him the largest murderer. This is not how you win an election by being the biggest killer trying to intimidate the people. Instead it is a crime. The International Criminal Court has wanted to investigate assad and his crimes however "Putin" and China Vetoed it. What a disgrace, an investigation of assad would be the best thing in the world. If assad is innocent then he should be cleared for any wrongdoing right? If found guilty (likely) then he would have a severe punishment.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs