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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

World

Assad's re-election assured in war-ravaged Syria

AFP | Wednesday, May 28, 2014

BEIRUT - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's is preparing for an inevitable re-election next week as the civil war shifts in the army's favour, with rebels losing ground and world powers paralysed by divisions.

A brutal three-year conflict that wrought destruction across the country and displaced millions, has left large swathes of territory in rebel hands. And the June 3 vote, in which Assad is seeking a third seven-year term, will only take place in regime-controlled areas.

The main opposition has already dismissed Syria's first multi-candidate election as a "farce" after the regime ensured no upsets by barring exiles from standing and with candidates needing the endorsement of 35 MPs in the state-controlled parliament.

The United States has called the vote a "parody of democracy." Candidates Maher al-Hajjar, an independent former communist MP, and Hassan al-Nouri, a businessman belonging to the tolerated opposition, are seen as token rivals giving the vote a veneer of credibility.

No candidate from the rebel ranks is running, in what is effectively the first presidential election in more than 50 years. Until now, like his father and predecessor Hafez, who ruled with an iron first from 1970 to 2000, Bashar secured his two previous mandates through a referendum.

"It is not about measuring popularity in a vote but to prove the power of the regime to force the country to demonstrate allegiance," said Volker Perthes, director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

In theory, all Syrians over the age of 17 are eligible to vote, including the seven million displaced within the country, but the reality is far more complicated, and dangerous.

"The elections will take place in all the cities in Syria, with the exception of Raqa," which is the hands of powerful jihadist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the constitutional court's spokesman Majid al-Khadra told AFP.

By implication, there will be no polling stations in much of the countryside, notably northern and eastern Syria and around Damascus, or in areas of certain cities under rebel control, including Aleppo and Deir Ezzor.

Fabrice Balanche, a French geographer who specialises in Syria, estimates that the vote will take place only 40 per cent of the territory, where around 60 per cent of the population live.

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