In the midst of Syria’s ongoing bloodshed, President Bashar Assad is staging an election. The move has nothing to do with democracy and everything to do with cynicism, writes DW’s Rainer Sollich.
Free elections guarantee at least some level of fairness: Citizens vote for those they believe will represent their interests. The winners come into power for a limited time. The losers form the opposition, which also exerts control over those in charge – thereby representing the interests of those who weren’t part of the victorious majority.
The “election” that Syrian President Bashar Assad is staging in his country is neither free nor fair. Other than Assad himself, just two candidates – both loyal to his regime – have been allowed on the ballot. Both are clearly the dictator’s puppets, intended to a pluralism to the international community that doesn’t really exist. It’s considered certain that Assad himself will emerge as the “winner.” True opposition candidates were excluded from the beginning.
But the circumstances under which Assad is staging this election are particularly macabre. For more than three years, war has dominated the country. The death toll has risen above 160,000, more than a third of the population has fled, or been driven from their homes, and numerous urban neighborhood and rural communities have been completely destroyed. Other residential areas are still being shelled daily and people massacred – largely by Assad’s air force and militias, but also by groups associated with al-Qaeda, who have been playing an increasingly dominant role in the military campaign against the regime.
Voters can only cast ballots in regions controlled by Assad’s regime; elsewhere, the war simply carries on. In the midst of such a bloody conflict and humanitarian disaster, holding a pseudo-election can hardly be surpassed in terms of cynicism and misanthropy.
But precisely that may be Assad’s central motive. He is using the “elections” not just as an instrument to renew his seeming legitimacy and pretend as though a quick return to normalcy is on the way for the Syrian people. After a series of important military victories by his troops and militias, it sends a perfidious signal of humiliation to his opponents.
As such, the message seems to be: ‘I am the victor and will remain president – you all are the losers and will fall by the wayside.’ In doing so, he is pouring oil onto the fire, provoking further acts of violence on behalf of those fighting against him.
More fear than indignation
The fact that Assad is increasingly presenting himself as the winner can unfortunately be chalked up to Western politics, along with support from Russia and Iran. Due to the threat of an American military strike, the dictator had to give up his chemical weapons. However, no one is stopping him from large-scale shelling of segments of his own population using conventional weapons. In most Western capitals, the fear of a power vacuum in Syria is greater than the sense of indignation.