Damascus (AP) – Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad has won a large majority in presidential elections in the country’s civil war, according to official information. The 55-year-old received 95.1 percent of the vote, parliament speaker Hammudah Sabbagh announced. The authoritarian head of state has been in power since 2000. His fourth term of office begins after the election. Turnout was reportedly nearly 79 percent.
Opposition without a real chance
The two opponents had no chance in the vote. They were only considered candidates to count. Mahmud Mari, who belongs to the internal Syrian opposition tolerated by the government, received 3.3 percent of the vote. Former MP Abdullah Sallum Abdullah accounted for 1.5 percent. In the election seven years ago, Assad got about 89 percent.
Syrian state media showed celebrations in various parts of the country after the election results were announced. Thousands of people celebrated in the center of the capital Damascus and stood together despite the corona pandemic. Many waved Syrian flags or held up portraits of Assad. Fireworks rose into the sky.
Civil war continues
A civil war has been raging in Syria for more than a decade, in which about 12 million people have been displaced. Many areas have been destroyed. In addition, the country is in a serious economic crisis. Millions of people suffer from hunger and poverty. Internationally, the Syrian government is largely isolated.
The government forces and their allies control about two-thirds of the land from the civil war. Only in these areas could the Syrians vote. The Syrian government is supported in the conflict by its closest allies Russia and Iran.
The presidential election was met with sharp criticism. The opposition called it illegal in advance and spoke of a “farce”. The Kurds who rule in northeastern Syria also refused to participate. Germany and other governments in the West criticized the vote as “neither free nor fair” and “fraudulent”.
The responsible UN mediator is critical of the elections
UN mediator for Syria, Geir Pedersen, was also critical of the election. The vote is not part of the international political process, he confirmed before the UN Security Council in New York. The UN was not involved in the elections. A Security Council resolution calls for UN-supervised elections in Syria after the government and opposition agree on a new constitution. However, the work of the Constitutional Commission in Geneva has been halted for months.
According to observers, the Syrian leadership was about a high turnout in the elections to give Assad extra legitimacy. A Syrian teacher reported that she and her colleagues had been asked to vote by the ruling Ba’ath party. Participation was a must.
With the election results, Assad can present himself to the international community as the ruler of the country with no alternative, to break the isolation. Recently, there have been reports of rapprochement between Syria and Saudi Arabia.