As expected, the regime of dictator Bashar Assad declared him the winner of Syria’s sham “election” on Thursday with over 95 percent of the vote.
After presiding over a brutal civil war that left his country in ruins, killing and displacing over 11 million people to create one of the worst humanitarian crises on Earth, Assad supposedly improved his popularity with the Syrian electorate by “winning” his fourth term with 95.1 percent of the vote, compared to his claim that he won his third term seven years ago with 88 percent.
Assad’s two obscure competitors, the leader of a tiny regime-sanctioned “opposition” party named Mahmoud Ahmed Marei and a former Assad cabinet minister named Abdallah Saloum Abdallah who discouraged people from voting for him, supposedly drew 3.3 percent and 1.5 percent of the vote, respectively.
The head of Syria’s parliament claimed the 2021 election produced 78.6 percent voter turnout. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the 2020 presidential contest in America had a record-high voter turnout at 67 percent.
Sky News noted these sky-high turnout claims are particularly absurd when such a huge portion of Syrians are living in refugee camps from which they could not possibly have voted, or publicly refused to vote as a gesture of contempt for the regime.
Assad, 55, claimed the high turnout, and his commanding victory over a couple of ringer candidates, proved Syria is functioning well and recovering quickly from the ravages of the civil war, which he was able to mostly win with Russian and Iranian military support.
“Thank you to all Syrians for their high sense of nationalism and their notable participation,” Assad said in a Facebook post on Thursday. “For the future of Syria’s children and its youth, let’s start from tomorrow our campaign of work to build hope and build Syria.”
Reuters cited anonymous Syrian officials who admitted Assad’s campaign rallies were organized by government officials, while security forces ordered all state employees to vote. Assad’s “victory” was celebrated by packed crowds cheering “with our soul and blood we defend you, Bashar!” and shooting guns in the air, despite Syria’s devastating coronavirus epidemic.
The U.S.-backed Kurdish autonomous region in northeastern Syria, and the rebel enclave in the northwest, abstained from voting and denounced the election. The genuine Syrian opposition called the election a “farce” that demonstrated Assad’s “contempt for the Syrian people.”
“It’s a decision by the government, aided by Russia and Iran, to kill the political process. It’s a continuation of tyranny,” a spokesman for the Syrian Negotiation Commission told the BBC.
The commission has long insisted Assad must leave office before a political solution to Syria’s strife could be implemented. The BBC dourly noted that such an orderly resolution “seems a distant prospect” with Assad tightening his grip on power, while “rebels, jihadists, and Kurdish-led forces” cling tenaciously to the 30 percent of Syria he does not control. European and American officials noted Assad violated the terms of the U.N. “peace process” by holding an election without international supervision.
Syrian-British journalist Danny Makki told NPR on Thursday the sham election was a power play by Assad, intended to project legitimacy to other regional powers, demoralize opponents, and celebrate the regime’s military victories – a message Assad sent by casting his personal ballot in the city of Douma, which he ravaged with chemical weapons when it was held by rebel forces.
“Assad casting his ballot in Douma is sending a message telling the opposition that we are celebrating through your demise. We are in power here, we are in control. It’s a message about who is top dog within Syria,” Makki said.
NPR noted that many Syrian businessmen and prominent citizens responded to this show of strength by seeking to “ingratiate themselves with the regime” by organizing political events on Assad’s behalf. His supporters were encouraged to prick their fingers with needles and sign their ballots in blood.
The regime pre-emptively disqualified every other candidate except the unknown Marei and reluctant Abdallah, who had no resources and were given only ten days to campaign under Syrian law, rendering them harmless punching bags for Assad’s staged victory.
Other than Makki, every Syrian who spoke to NPR – whether critical of Assad or willing to accept his victory – requested anonymity because they feared the regime would kill them or their families if they spoke to foreign media.