US, UN and Europe criticise Syria election on eve of vote

Bashar Al Assad poisedto win another presidential term unlikely to gain him fans in the West

Mr Al Assad is competing against two obscure rivals, but few people doubt he will win and extend his presidency despite a decade of war that has left Syria in tatters. Reuters
Mr Al Assad is competing against two obscure rivals, but few people doubt he will win and extend his presidency despite a decade of war that has left Syria in tatters. Reuters

The US, European powers and the UN said an election in Syria on Wednesday that will most likely hand President Bashar Al Assad a fourth seven-year term is illegitimate.

On the eve of voting in the war-torn country, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a joint statement with foreign ministers from France, Germany, Italy and Britain denouncing the vote. The UN separately criticised the process as flawed.

Mr Al Assad is competing against two obscure rivals in the May 26 election, but few people doubt that the 55-year-old will win and extend his presidency despite a decade of war that has left Syria and its economy in tatters.

“This fraudulent election does not represent any progress towards a political settlement,” Mr Blinken and his allies said on Tuesday.

“We urge the international community to unequivocally reject this attempt by the Assad regime to regain legitimacy without ending its grave human rights violations and meaningfully participating in the UN-facilitated political process to end the conflict.”

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Tuesday that the world body was “not involved in these elections” and that the ballot was in breach of rules laid down in 2015 by the UN’s 15-nation Security Council.

The election should take place only after the creation of a new constitution, Mr Dujarric said. It should be free and fair, monitored by the UN and allow all Syrians to vote, including those living overseas.

This week’s vote will instead be held under the terms of Syria’s 2012 constitution, which says those standing must have lived in the country for the past 10 years, effectively barring most opposition figures.

It also requires that parliament – stacked with members of Mr Al Assad’s ruling party – approves candidates.

Mr Al Assad’s rivals are former deputy Cabinet minister Abdallah Abdallah and Mahmoud Marei, head of the National Democratic Front, a small, officially sanctioned opposition party.

Dozens of other presidential hopefuls submitted requests for candidacy but were rejected.

The president’s campaign slogan, "Hope through Work", evokes the need for the reconstruction of a country ravaged by a decade-long conflict that has claimed more than 388,000 lives and displaced half of the population since it erupted in 2011.

The president freed thousands of prisoners this month on top of a series of decrees aimed at propping up the country’s flagging economy.

Mr Al Assad was elected to his current seven-year term in 2014 with 88.7 per cent of the vote. The runner-up endorsed Mr Al Assad in the campaign.

A UN-backed committee comprised of representatives of Mr Al Assad’s government, opposition groups and civil society met five times since October 2019 to draft a new constitution but made little progress.

Few analysts expect the committee to complete the document. Fighting in Syria has largely ceased and forces backing Mr Al Assad, with Russia and Iranian support, have recaptured most of the country, giving him little reason to seriously negotiate with his opponents.

He also enjoys the support of veto-wielding UN council members Russia and China, which have repeatedly torpedoed western efforts to pressure Damascus.

Updated: May 26, 2021 05:51 PM

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