— Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is certain to win a third seven-year term once votes are tallied in the presidential election face-off against two less well-known candidates. Voting took place Tuesday in parts of Syria controlled by the government, but was boycotted by opposition groups in areas they control.
Election observers from several countries, including Syria's allies Iran, Russia and Venezuela, told Syrian TV that voting at polling stations that they monitored appeared to go smoothly. Most of the observers expressed support for the government and President Bashar al-Assad.
At a polling station in the coastal government stronghold of Latakiya, an election official told state TV that ballot boxes were still waiting to be counted, but that he expected votes to be tabulated within the next 24 hours. He said voting had been heavy, despite unsettled conditions in the country.
He said that he was struck by the enthusiasm of the many refugees from other parts of Syria who turned out to vote in even stronger numbers than local residents.
Al-Arabiya TV, which supports the Syrian opposition, claimed that the government had flown supporters from outside the country to vote and had given money or favors in exchange for a ballot in President Assad's favor. It was impossible, however, for VOA to confirm the claim.
Ala'edin Boroujerdi, who headed an Iranian parliamentary delegation, told a group of visiting legislators that many Syrian expatriates had not been allowed to cast their ballots in certain European and Gulf states. This, he argued, was an “unfair breach of their human rights.”
Middle East scholar Nadim Shehadi of Chatham House
in London told VOA that while the Western press has been calling the Syrian presidential election a “sham,” many Syrians still living inside the country must feel that it was the West that has perpetrated a sham.
"If you're looking at the elections in Syria from the West, they look like a sham, but if you're looking at the West from Syria, it's Western policy that looks like a sham, because Syrians were expecting that the international community would protect them [from President] Assad and would prevent him from crushing the revolt, so they feel let down," said Shehadi.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford told U.S. television broadcaster PBS Tuesday that “efforts [the U.S. and other nations] have made to date have not worked... [because] they have not put enough pressure on the Assad regime on the ground.” That, he concluded, is why the regime “balked” at a political settlement during a Geneva peace conference last February.