|Bashar al-Asad supporters in Damascus|
Syrian President Bashar al-Asad, who has been in office since his father's death in 2000, is nearing the end of his second seven-year term. A quick reminder of how Bashar came to be the president will provide some insight into the Syrian electoral process. Bashar, second son of Syrian strongman Hafiz al-Asad, was called back from his ophthalmology studies in the United Kingdom when his older brother Basil was killed in a car accident in 1994. The poster in the above photograph refers to "the eye doctor."
After his return, the tall, introverted physician was groomed to succeed his father, much as Basil before him. That entailed a direct field-grade commission in the army, imaginary graduation from the war college, command positions, etc., most in name only. It was no secret to anyone in the country that Bashar would be the next president of Syria, but that was never mentioned out loud.
Although many Syrians objected to what amounts to a dynasty in the country, they have had no say. Despite the trappings of a republic, Syria is a dictatorship ruled by the Ba'ath Party, a party dominated by the minority Shi'a-offshoot 'Alawi sect and the al-Asad clan. Complaining about the al-Asad family out loud in Syria usually results in the complainer going wara' al-shams (behind the sun, meaning they just disappear).
In 2000, Hafiz al-Asad died, putting Syria into somewhat of a constitutional crisis. The Syrian constitution, regarded by most Syrians as merely hibr 'ala waraq (ink on paper), required that the Syrian president be 40 years of age, and a Muslim. At that time, Bashar was only 34 years old. The Syrian parliament went into emergency session and within one hour changed the Syrian constitution to change the age requirement to 34 years of age. You can't make this stuff up.
A referendum was held, asking the electorate to vote for or against Bashar al-Asad as the new president. With a turnout of 94.6 percent, Bashar was approved with 99.7 percent voting yes. The joke in Damascus at the time: when told of the results and asked what more he could ask for, Bashar replied, "the names of the 0.3 percent...."
Bashar was re-elected to a second term in 2007 with "only" 97.62 percent of the vote, with a 95.86 percent turnout. Although the numbers appear to be a slight decrease in support for Bashar, the internal numbers reveal almost the same impossible numbers. There were only 0.17 percent against Bashar's re-election - the remaining 2.21 percent were declared invalid ballots. It's all a sham.*
|Voting in Damascus's fifth election precinct in 2012|
In 2012, under pressure from the rebels who were on the verge of overthrowing the al-Asad government, Bashar ordered the drafting of a new constitution, which to no one's surprise, was overwhelmingly approved in a referendum.** The voter turnout was only 57.4 percent (remember - this was during a civil war), and 89.4 percent voting in favor.
The new constitution changes the selection of the president from a referendum on one candidate to an election with multiple candidates. A law adopted by the Syrian parliament in 2014 (at Bashar's direction) prohibits candidates who have not lived in Syria for the past 10 years - this removes self-exiled opposition leaders from eligibility.
For the election which will be held on June 3, a total of 24 potential candidates have applied to be on the ballot. Of these 24, only three have been determined to meet all the eligibility requirements and will appear on the ballot. It is meaningless theater - Bashar al-Asad will be re-elected in a landslide.
Yes, you heard it here first: Bashar al-Asad will be re-elected in a landslide.
I have a good Syrian friend, a doctor - we will call him Dr. Walid - who described a voting experience a few years ago. He went to work at the hospital on election day. He was summoned to the hospital administrator's office, where he was introduced to two Ba'ath Party "officials" - his description of them was more akin to "enforcers." They explained that since the doctor was very busy with patients, they had taken the liberty of bringing his ballot to him and had already filled it out. How considerate, no?
This will be another sham (pun intended) election, Bashar will be re-elected by a huge margin, and the dictatorship in Syria will go on. The civil war will continue, more civilians will be killed.
* This is a play on words for my Arabic-speaking readers. The word sham in Arabic means Syria or Damascus, depending on the word preceding it. See also another use of the word at my earlier article, What's in a name? - the Syrian-Iranian car company.
** The military situation has changed dramatically since 2012. With the introduction of Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps fighters and advisors, plus fighters from Lebanese Hizballah, the Syrian armed forces have regained the upper hand.