Assad’s reelection: A parody of democracy
By : Hassan Barari
In war-torn Syria, Bashar Assad has been reelected for another seven-year term. Describing holding of elections — in such a way and against the backdrop of a protracted bloody conflict — as a futile exercise would be an understatement. In fact, it will not change the course of the conflict in any meaningful way.
Certainly, Assad seeks to send a message to his opponents — whether within Syria or without — that the three years of war has not demoralized his regime. Assad has no interest in democracy, to say the least. Therefore, the British official comment on the situation that the vote “will be a grotesque parody of democracy” is accurate. It is hard to figure out how a vote can be cast at a time when the Syrian Air Force jets were bombarding various areas in the country with crude explosive devices.
What distinguishes theses elections from the last ones is the fact that two unknown contenders ran against Assad. Hassan Al-Nori — a businessman and a former Cabinet member — and Mahir Hajjar — a lawmaker — contested the elections. If anything, their acceptance to run against Assad was just a window dressing to give the impression of free and fair elections. Observers around the world argue that they are used as pawns to give the vote a veneer of democracy. Interestingly, neither of the two contenders offered a different approach as to how to solve the current civil war in Syria.
Obviously, Assad is taking advantage of Obama’s hesitant approach and the full support of Hezbollah and Iran to decide the battle on the ground. For this reason, holding elections at this critical time is designed to send a clear message that Assad will not step down anytime in the near future.
There is a near consensus among members of the international community that Assad will not be part of any future political settlement. Assad and his backers understand this very well and for this reason political settlement is not on their agenda. True, Assad pays lip service to the notion of political settlement, but he has been meticulously working to undermine the conditions necessary for such a settlement.
For a political settlement to succeed, there is a need for a change in the balance of power between the opposition and the regime. The American former ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, said that his country was reluctant to lend its support to the opposition from the get-go. Had the United States provided the rebels with lethal weapons, the Syrian regime would have been pushed to accept a political settlement and Assad would have long gone. Hence, short of taking this step, Assad will most likely continue his current defiant approach.
It seems that Robert Ford is not alone in this assessment. Hillary Clinton’s new book titled “Hard Choices” reveals that she supported the idea of arming the moderate rebels with lethal weapons but Obama rejected this idea. Obama’s insistence that America will not get involved in any new conflict in the Middle East has only emboldened Assad’s regional backers to step up their financial and military support to prop up the regime. Were it not for the support offered by Iran and Hezbollah, Assad would have acted differently. To be sure, the rebels never asked the United States to put boots on the ground. All they asked for was weapons that could make a difference and could face the lethal Syrian air force but President Obama did not budge.
The Syrian regime manipulated the western fears that lethal weapons might fall into the hands of radical rebels. Assad and his backers frame the conflict as one between Assad’s troops and terrorists. This struck a cord in the West. Even in Geneva conference, the Syrian delegation played up the terrorist card hoping that the West would subcontract Assad to fight the terrorists.
Seen in this way, Assad’s election is hardly a surprise. He believes that chances are high that the West would accept him as a partner — albeit a junior one — in the battle against terrorism. The electoral exercise, therefore, was designed to rehabilitate Assad and to legitimize him in a changing region. In a nutshell, the elections held last week had nothing to do with democracy.