Syria is holding presidential elections amid the country’s ongoing civil war. Voting will only take place in areas controlled by the regime – opposition areas in the northern and eastern parts of the country are boycotting the vote. This is the first time in decades than more than one name has appeared on the ballot paper – this time Syrians are to choose among three candidates. The Voice of Russia talked to Samir Saul, he is a professor of history at the University of Montreal, specialising in Syrian politics.
President Bashar al-Assad is widely expected to win a third seven-year term in office. The two other candidates are relatively unknown: Hassan al-Nouri, a businessman and former government minister, and Maher Hajjar, a lawmaker.
According to the interior ministry, there are 15.8 million eligible voters, both inside and outside Syria, and about 9,600 polling stations have been set up around the country. Anas al-Khatib, member of the elections subcommittee in Damascus, says the main aim of the electoral commission now is to ensure fair and democratic elections in Syria.
Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi called the elections a historic day for Syria. In his opinion, a large turnout would –quote – prove to the entire world that the Syrian people have decided and are determined to make the electoral process a success. Meanwhile the West denounced these elections as a parody of democracy.
What are forecasts for the outcome of the elections? What do the data of Syrian opinion polls show?
All forecasts show that it will be a landslide victory for the President Bashar al-Assad. The irony of that situation is that the war has probably made Bashar al-Assad more popular than he really was, because he seems to represent the defense of the country, the defense of the nation against the outside interference. And therefore, the election is not really on his rule, the election is on the defense of the country – on defending Syria or not defending Syria. And that makes him more popular automatically. It is a paradoxical result of the start of the war in 2011.
Not all Syrians would be able to cast ballots, as the regions occupied by the opposition forces are not taking part in the elections. In your opinion, is it possible to ensure fair and democratic election in the country torn by a civil war?
No, these elections are obviously abnormal. They are not ordinary elections. We are seeing more and more of these elections in unusual circumstances. We’ve seen it, for example, in Afghanistan under the US occupation, in Iraq under the US occupation, lately in Ukraine where we see almost a civil war going on. These elections are not ordinary elections. They are gestures of defiance by whoever rules to show that he can rule, that this regime can rule.
In the case of Syria it is a gesture of defiance against the West and its regional allies, like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, as well as European allies like France. It is an attempt to show that a regime change is ruled out and that the Syria Government has support inside Syria.
What reaction on the elections’ results can we expect from the international community?
The West has already denounced the elections in Syria. Almost every leader of the Western countries has denounced it as a shame, as a parody and so on. That is not unexpected. They obviously want nothing that could help the regime consolidate itself. Elsewhere, it depends on what part of the world and on the policy towards the Syrian war.
The elections will simply consolidate the views that already existed before on the Syrian war, for the regime\against the regime, for the armed groups\against the armed groups etc.