Syrian President Bashar al-Assad brushed off accusations of election rigging by the West as he won a fourth term in office with a landslide 95.1 per cent of the vote.
Assad’s government says the election on Wednesday shows Syria is functioning normally despite the decade-old conflict, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven 11 million people – about half the population – from their homes.
But Western powers and Assad’s opposition have described the election, which lasted for 17 hours with no independent monitors, as illegitimate and a sham.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad brushed off accusations of election rigging by the West as he won a fourth term in office with a landslide 95.1 per cent of the vote
Damascus erupted in celebrations, with gunfire and fireworks lighting the night sky on May 27
Assad’s government says the election on Wednesday shows Syria is functioning normally despite the decade-old conflict. Pictured: Bashar al-Assad waves to his supporters at a polling station on Wednesday
In the country ravaged by war, areas controlled by rebels or Kurdish-led troops did not hold the vote. At least 8 million, mostly displaced, live in those areas in northwest and northeast Syria.
Over 5 million refugees – mostly living in neighboring countries – have largely refrained from casting their ballots.
Head of Parliament Hammouda Sabbagh announced the results at a news conference on Thursday, saying voter turnout was around 78 per cent, with more than 14 million Syrians taking part.
The election went ahead despite a U.N.-led peace process that had called for voting under international supervision that would help pave the way for a new constitution and a political settlement.
It led to US and European officials questioning the legitimacy of the election, saying it violations the UN resolutions in place to resolve the conflict, lacks any international monitoring, and is unrepresentative of all Syrians.
The foreign ministers of France, Germany, Italy, Britain and the U.S. said in a statement criticising Assad ahead of the election that the vote would not be free or fair. Turkey, an Assad adversary, has also said the election was illegitimate.
The win delivers Assad, 55, seven more years in power and lengthens his family’s rule to nearly six decades. His father, Hafez al-Assad, led Syria for 30 years until his death in 2000.
Pictured: A general view taken on October 6, 2014, shows the Dakhaniyeh neighbourhood, southeast of the capital Damascus, after Syrian government forces seized control of area.
Syrians walk along a severely damaged road in the northeastern city of Deir Ezzor in this file image taken in January 2014
Assad’s years as president have been defined by the conflict that began in 2011 with peaceful protests before spiralling into a multi-sided conflict that has fractured the Middle Eastern country and drawn in foreign friends and enemies.
‘Thank you to all Syrians for their high sense of nationalism and their notable participation. 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,’ Assad wrote on his campaign’s Facebook page.
Assad’s biggest challenge, now that he has regained control of around 70% of the country, will be an economy in decline.
An economic crisis is getting worse in a country where over 80 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line and the local currency is in a free fall.
Tightening U.S. sanctions, neighbouring Lebanon’s financial collapse, the COVID-19 pandemic hitting remittances from Syrians abroad and the inability of allies Russia and Iran to provide enough relief, mean prospects for recovery look poor.
A group of Assad’s supporters stand on a car as they celebrate before the results of the election on Thursday
Rallies with thousands of people waving Syrian flags and holding pictures of Assad while singing and dancing took place all day Thursday in celebration of the election
Rallies with thousands of people waving Syrian flags and holding pictures of Assad while singing and dancing took place all day Thursday in celebration of the election.
Damascus erupted in celebrations, with gunfire and fireworks lighting the night sky. The thousands of supporters chanted: ‘With our soul, blood, we defend you Bashar,’ and ‘We only choose three: God, Syria and Bashar.’
A large stage was set in the capital’s Omayyad Square, with speakers blaring national songs. Almost no one was wearing a face mask, though Syria is facing a surge of coronavirus cases.
Officials have told Reuters privately that authorities organised the large rallies in recent days to encourage voting, and the security apparatus that underpins Assad’s Alawite minority-dominated rule had instructed state employees to vote.
The vote was boycotted by the U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces who administer an autonomous oil-rich region in the northeast and in northwestern Idlib region, the last existing rebel enclave, where people denounced the election in large demonstrations on Wednesday.
Assad was running against two obscure candidates, former deputy Cabinet minister Abdallah Saloum Abdallah and Mahmoud Ahmed Marei, head of a small, officially sanctioned opposition party.
Marei got 3.3 per cent of the vote, while Saloum received 1.5 per cent, Sabbagh said.
The election is likely to offer little change to conditions in Syria. While Assad and his allies, Russia and Iran, may be seeking a new seal of legitimacy for the president in office since 2000, his re-election is likely to deepen the rift with the West, driving him closer to Russian and Iranian backers as well as China.