The one certainty about Syria's looming election – Assad will win

The Guardian
Fecha de publicación: 
13 Abr 2014

It is election season in Syria and, to listen to government officials, the tumult of revolution and war will soon be replaced by the certainty of democracy.

Since the coup that led Hafez al-Assad to power more than 40 years ago, presidential elections in Syria have never been a contest of wills. And so it will be when the dictator's son Bashar al-Assad goes to the polls within months, the sole meaningful candiatate to run a country ravaged by a crisis that shows little sign of slowing.

When on 17 March parliament approved plans for a poll, by way of a new electoral law welcoming multiple candidates, Syrian officials claimed that people power had ushered in the type of reforms demanded during the first stirrings of insurrection three years ago.

Section 30 of the same law, though, is evidence that nothing has changed. It says anyone who wants to stand must have the support of at least 35 members of the parliament and have been resident in the country for the past 10 years. Both of the candidates' parents must also be Syrian. That rules out any of Assad's real opponents, who are in exile outside the country. Other restrictions mean they, and those who support them, will not be able to vote either.

Electors must also hold a new identification document, which can only be issued by regime authorities. Those who fled Syria as war spread to all corners of the country will not be able to vote unless they left via an official border point.

The number of Syrian refugees is now close to nine million, more than six million of whom remain internally displaced in opposition-held areas, with little chance of getting to a government office to register, even if they wanted to. If refugees in neighbouring states want to vote, they will need to go to a Syrian embassy – close to impossible for those in refugee camps and an unlikely proposition for the rest.

Despite all this, the regime's image-makers have been busy. Rallies supporting Assad have been held in Damascus and Homs and numerous shop fronts and doors in the capital have been painted with the Syrian flag. Some residents say they have been ordered by officials to buy the paint and do the brushwork themselves.

While Assad does enjoy popular support in parts of Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo, and even in the large swaths of the country now outside his influence, a real multi-party election would be tough to win. More than half of Syria's population won't have a voice when the ballot is called – sometime before June. Many of those who can make it to a polling booth will have little incentive to go if they want someone else as leader.

At the last presidential election, in 2007, Assad took 97.6% of the vote. This time around, officials know a slightly less overwhelming victory will be needed to give a veneer of legitimacy. Officials in Damascus are touting a figure of around 80%. Whatever the final percentage, it is likely to have been agreed before polling day.