News / Middle East

Syria Election: Experts Weigh In

A man on a motorcycle rides past a poster depicting Syria's President Bashar al-Assad on a wall in the pro-government al-Zahraa neighbourhood in Homs May 15, 2014. Despite the carnage and loss of swathes of territory in the north and east to insurgents, S
A man on a motorcycle rides past a poster depicting Syria's President Bashar al-Assad on a wall in the pro-government al-Zahraa neighbourhood in Homs May 15, 2014. Despite the carnage and loss of swathes of territory in the north and east to insurgents, S
Cecily Hilleary
— VOA reached out to political analysts, bloggers, activists, opposition members and humanitarian workers to comment on this week's presidential election in Syria.

Representatives of the Syrian government did not respond to requests for comments.

 
Zaher SahloulZaher Sahloul
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Zaher Sahloul
Zaher Sahloul

Zaher Sahloul, M.D., President, Syrian American Medical Society:
 
"Election? What a farce. Assad will probably win his third election with flying colors. Syrians who are lucky enough to stay alive or be spared from displacement will have no choice but to vote, and vote frequently, for the ‘exceptional' leader. Non-Syrians, i.e., from Iraq, Lebanon and Iran, will probably participate in the ‘historic’ vote to compensate for the 4 million refugees and 7 million displaced Syrians. Assad will win probably by less than 99 percent but more than 90 percent because he cares about his ‘democratic’ image. He is probably thinking that by being reelected for another seven years he will drive the nail deep in the heart of the revolution. History will remember him as the leader who ruined his country and destroyed in three years what had been built in 50 years. Syria as we know it has gone forever because of his ‘wise’ leadership.

Ziad Fadel, Attorney, blog author:

"The people of Syria have opted, through the representative People's Assembly, to have a constititution requiring direct election of the president of the republic within 60 to 90 days of the end of the sitting president's term of office. This is a decision of a sovereign nation and member state of the United Nations.

"That nations opposed to our president which are bent on ousting him in violation of the U.N. Charter and other statutes declare our elections a 'charade' points an accusatory finger at their hypocrisies.

"If our president, Dr. Assad, is going to be elected by a plurality, then, that is the desire of the Syrian people in a democratic environment which would be supported by so-called democratic Western nations but for the obvious double standards. 

"Syria is free of Western influence when it comes to her leadership.  We will not be swayed by nations like France, which murdered over 1.5 million Arabs in their fight for independence, or Britain whose legacy of slaughter rivals Germany's, or the United States which killed over one million Vietnamese and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis in wars now declared to have been misguided or plainly malicious.  Our elections will continue despite the groans of those whose hands are stained with the blood of innocent Syrians and the Syrian people will emerge victorious."
 
Jihad MakdissiJihad Makdissi
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Jihad Makdissi
Jihad Makdissi

Jihad Makdissi, former spokesman for the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, now working as a political consultant and teaching in Dubai, UAE:

"In times of national crisis and wars, elections can be used as an honorable exit to solve political contentions and disputes. Unfortunately in Syria it is seen by many as a show of defiance that would undermine what is left of the Geneva Process that calls for power-sharing in the country and that is endorsed by both sides.”

 
"Idris," prominent Syrian opposition activist in exile. who asked his name not be used for fear if repression: 
 
"You know, dictators are brought up to be egotistical. The entire world revolves around them. As they rule, they become more self-centric as people pay lip service to them. Assad since day one of the revolution viewed the revolution as a personal insult against him as a person. It showed him as incompetent so that hurt his pride, and he then took revenge and destroyed Syria. So 100,000 are dead because of an ego and millions displaced, and all this happened not because of him but rather because of the inaction of the international community. It seems all states have interests in seeing Syria burned."
 
Joshua LandisJoshua Landis
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Joshua Landis
Joshua Landis

Joshua Landis, Director of the Center of Middle Eastern Studies, University of Oklahoma, blog author, Syria Comment:

"Assad goes through the charade of elections for two reasons:  One, It is required by the constitution. The constitution stipulates that every seven years the leader of the Baath Party will be elected as president.

"Secondly, the process of electioneering, with roadside signs, banners, TV adds, local hufles, or street parties, in Assad's honor and all the notables of Syrian society parading their support for the president.  These create an aura of leadership and invincibility which is part of za'ama, or 'leadership' in Syrian Arab culture. The public show of support creates an aura of invincibility and power.

 
Joshua StacherJoshua Stacher
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Joshua Stacher
Joshua Stacher

Joshua Stacher, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Kent State University, author of Adaptable Autocrats: Regime Power in Egypt and Syria:
 
Obviously, this election serves some sort of purpose for the internal regime, because they could just as easily not hold it, and it would not change anything.  Basically, there are two reasons why they are having it: One, it’s an internal power dynamic.  It allows for the constituent parts of the regime, like the parties, the security services, local strongmen in areas outside the capital to reaffirm their solidarity with President Al-Assad.  It allows them to line up and get patronage…Two, it sends a message to Syrian opposition, inside and outside: 'Look. We can fight a civil war for three years and we can still hold a rigged election, and there is nothing you can do about it…do you really think you can overthrow us?'"

Bente SchellerBente Scheller
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Bente Scheller
Bente Scheller

Bente Scheller, Director of the Heinrich Böll Foundation's Beirut-based Middle East office and author of The Wisdom of Syria's Waiting Game: Foreign Policy under the Assads:

“When Assad earlier this year hinted at getting ready for elections, this was a message to his adversaries and supporters. Russia back then said they did not find it 'helpful' and I think Assad - though being heavily dependent on Russia - wanted to demonstrate he is not Moscow's puppet. Now..Assad has turned so much into a symbol that Russia might not be as willing as earlier to let him go and be replaced by someone else from the regime...On the domestic side, even some of his supporters in the business community are taken aback by the campaign. Retaking Homs was one thing, but the regime talking about a prosperous tourism season in that city this summer is too much for many because of the incredible harm inflicted on its citizens and the infrastructure.”
 
Sawsan JabriSawsan Jabri
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Sawsan Jabri
Sawsan Jabri


Sawsan Jabri, activist, former spokeswoman for the Syrian Expatriates Organization:

"Regardless of Assad’s illegitimate inheritance of power in 2000--which was unconstitutional on many levels, for him to be re-considered as a presidential candidate after the three bloodiest years in Syria’s modern history is the most egregious situation Syrians have to encounter. It’s just an extension of time for more killing. The UN, US, and EU have stressed more than one time that any resolution toward peace in Syria mandates as a prequisite that Assad be ousted. It is time to restore the viability of Syria without Assad. Assad hads failed to listen to people's demands peacefully, instigated sectarian conflict, promoted the infiltration of extremists in Syria and has opened Syria to the despotic militias of Iran, Hezbollah, Iraq and Russia. He has lost his legitimacy as current president, so it is extremely ridiculous to revive his legitimacy through this coming election."
 
Ammar ZakariaAmmar Zakaria
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Ammar Zakaria
Ammar Zakaria

Ammar Zakaria, M.D., Anesthesiologist, former Syrian army officer, now with the Aleppo City Medical Council, a humanitarian group that coodinates health care in field hospitals in Aleppo:

"If I have to say anything about the coming 'bloody election,' it is that we should focus on the presidential election propaganda [slogan] Sawa, which means 'Together.'  So let us together glance at Bashar's achievements during his term of ruling Syria (excluding the inherited presidential position):  Inflation has swelled by 350 percent; the regime burked the opposition through arrest, torture and murder; more than 250,000 persons are dead, 300,000 arrested and more than 7 million are refugees inside Syria or outside in the neighboring countries; and Mr. Lakhdar Ibrahimi, the UN envoy, and Kofi Annan before him resigned because they failed to convince Bashar to stop killing Syrian people and to leave Syria.

"So, for God's sake, who would be insane enough to accept such achievements and stand with Bashar ‘together’”?

Some Syrians have taken to ridiculing Assad's campaign slogan across social media, as the Storify below demonstrates:
 
Error rendering storify.

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