Why Syria needs Assad as its president
On May 4, Syria’s Supreme Constitutional Court announced that President Bashar Assad would face two other candidates in the coming June 3 presidential election. Due to the strict criteria (a candidate must be at least 40 years old, hold Syrian citizenship only, be a child of Syrian citizens and married only to a Syrian citizen, be free of criminal convictions and hold permanent residence in the Syrian Arab Republic for a period of no less than 10 years at the time of seeking nomination) the court found 21 other candidates ineligible to run. Therefore, President Assad will have to compete with Hassan bin Abdullah al-Nouri, a 54-year-old lawmaker from Damascus, and 43-year-old Maher Abdul-Hafiz Hajjar, a lawmaker from the northern city of Aleppo. Al-Nouri is a former minister of administrative development who currently heads the National Initiative for Change and stands for liberal values, whereas Hajjar is the deputy from the Popular Front for Change and Liberation and he is committed to communist ideas.
What makes these elections different?
There is a terrible buzz on the forthcoming presidential election in Syria, mainly calling them absurd and totally illegitimate. However, without an election Syria will have a president who lacks legitimacy, especially taking into account that there are prospects of the Geneva talks to come up with any compromise in the short term.
The June 3 elections are taking place around the time when the second 7-year presidential mandate of Assad expires. This somehow shows that Syrian government is not going to change or violate the state’s electoral system because of the ongoing fighting. Though, there are some specifics regarding the presidential polls.
To begin with, they are going to be held during the civil war at its height, which contradicts the Geneva agreements that envisage the formation of a transitional government. Indeed, it was announced by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, as well as by the UN and Arab League Special Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, who shared their concerns over the forthcoming elections in Syria.
“As I have already said, and as he [Brahimi] has said, these elections do not conform to the letter and spirit of the Geneva Communiqué,” Ban said in an interview with Al-Arabiya, emphasizing that the elections could cause a “serious delay” in continuing negotiations on the settlement of the conflict.
Nevertheless, Syrian authorities have a different point of view. As Syrian Information Minister Omran Zoabi said, the coming election would be “a real contribution to combating terrorism and violence.”
“Brahimi is not entitled to implement American policy in Syria. The Syrian authorities will decide whether to hold elections and nobody can obstruct the constitutional requirements in the country,” Zoabi told SANA.
At the same time, the Speaker of the People's Assembly, Mohammad Jihad al-Laham, directed special letters to parliament speakers and MPs in a number of friendly countries, inviting them to come and examine how the election process will be running “out of our belief in your objective stances in support of the Syrian people and their right to elect their presidential candidate and decide their political future fairly, freely and transparently and without foreign interference.”
“It's my pleasure to invite you to send a group of members of your revered parliaments and experts in electoral affairs from your friendly countries to follow up on the presidential elections in our country,” the speaker's letter said.
Among others, the invitation letters were directed to Chairman of Russia's State Duma Sergey Naryshkin, Chairman of the National People's Congress of China Zhang Dejiang, Speaker of the National Assembly of South Africa Max Max Sisulu, Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies of the Federative Republic of Brazil Henrique Eduardo Alves, President of the National Assembly of Venezuela Diosdado Cabello-Rondon and President of the Cuban National Assembly of People's Power Esteban Hernandez.
In fact, for Bashar Assad the June 3 polls will be the first elections in his life, since previously he was “elected” via a referendum. The particular feature of such a procedure is that there is only one candidate and people should vote for or against him. In other words, those presidential elections in Syria would be the first ever in Syrian history.
Putting aside talk about the illegitimacy of the announced elections and its fraught outcome that will give Assad the official right to stay in power, there is really a big challenge for voters and this problem is admitted even by the government itself. The neighbors of Syria are hosting many of its refugees, whereas some Syrians also live abroad, which as skeptics say would prevent people from choosing a new president and add some points to Assad. However, the Speaker of the People's Assembly of Syria has recently announced that Syrians living abroad can vote in Syrian Embassies abroad on May 28, and this can also be applicable to refugees. And here comes the reverse of the medal. Most of the countries hosting Syrian refugees are hostile to Assad regime, especially the Gulf States and Turkey, with some even sponsoring radicals, which would definitely affect the climate of the voting. Besides, some of the states suspended relations with Syria, so there are no Syrian embassies where people would be able to express their will. Furthermore, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), al-Nusra Front, and other radical groups are likely to carry out suicide attacks against polling stations during elections. So it seems that accusations in “unfair game” could be applicable to both sides.
Whom to vote for?
The West, with the US in the front line, is still yelling and moaning that “Assad must go,” and that it is not a real election but a “parody of democracy,” and that Assad represents only a minority of the Syrian population. He is called a bloody dictator who brought the country into a long-lasting civil war, who used chemical weapons against his own people and sponsored terrorists and because of whom millions of Syrians had to leave the country. This is what we hear from the Western politicians and mass media almost every day. Nevertheless, Syria did not become another fallen chip in the domino effect of the Arab Spring, which resulted in the ousting of a big army man, Hosni Mubarak, and the killing of the extremely charismatic Muammar Gaddafi. Moreover, Assad managed to regain support not only within the country but partly among the international community as well. What makes Bashar Assad so special?
First, President Assad, not without support of Russia and China, did not allow any active foreign intervention like we saw in Libya and prevented even further escalation of the internal conflict. Indeed, there is a war within the country, though it is more about radicals and Jihadists initially sponsored by the West than, for example, the Sunnis who represent 70 percent of the population, fighting against the current regime. Second, for many years there has been a balanced approach towards minorities and various ethnic and religious groups in Syria, which is a merit of Assad’s government. Gaining power by Jihadists would undermine the existing equilibrium and is likely to result in violation of rights of minorities like Kurds or Christians, if not their total extermination. Finally, the absence of unity among the opposition and the implementation by Assad of a number of reforms in Syria, including his willingness to collaborate on elimination of chemical weapons, also showed how strong his position remains.
So, whether you like it or not, for the moment Assad is the most likely winner of the elections. And actually the best one. He is indeed “the lesser evil” and the strongest candidate among others, if we consider his ability to rebuff Jihadists. Assad’s biggest problem is that he has never been a Western puppet and still tries to fight for his country and his people. For sure, he is not the best president in the world, though in fact there is no such notion at all. But the facts are lying on the surface – he is the person who meets the current requirements of Syria, so instead of criticizing and going into hysterics the West should better make efforts to guarantee security on election day, bolster the Geneva peace process and work toward the formation of a Syrian transitional government that would not exclude Allawites and members of the current government.
Irina Sukhoparova, RT
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.