Syria’s parliament yesterday announced that incumbent Bashar al-Assad won Tuesday’s presidential election, winning 88.7 per cent of the vote (10.3 million votes).
An hour before the final result was proclaimed a rising ripple of celebratory machine-gun fire rolled across Damascus after Syrian television declared 73.4 per cent, or 11.6 million of Syria’s 15 million registered voters had cast ballots in Tuesday’s presidential election.
In the morning, the pro-government daily Al-Watan (The Nation) reported that "millions" had cast ballots, "defying terrorism and its mortars, rockets, car bombs and suicide attackers, to prove the legitimacy of Bashar al-Assad for a new term that will last until 2021".
Dr Assad was always expected to win in the country’s first ever multicandidate presidential election. Once the result was proclaimed, cars took to the streets hooting horns and flashing their lights as machine guns intensified fire.
Last evening Syrians living in in farming villages in the Qalamoun mountains waited impatiently for the announcement after setting out plastic chairs in front of shops, houses and television sets along the roadside to watch the return.
Dr Assad is very popular in the Qalamoun mountains that lie between central Syria and the Lebanese border because the Syrian army, backed by fighters from the Lebanese Shia Hizbullah movement, have, over the past year, driven from this region rebels reinforced by deeply unpopular radical fundamentalists and returned strategic towns and villages to government control.
There was never any question that he would fail to secure victory , former legislators Hassan al-Nouri and Maher Hajjar said, but those who cast their ballots for Dr Assad hope high participation would confer on him national and international legitimacy and halt a political and paramilitary campaign waged by western and Gulf powers to force him to stand down.
Dr Assad, a Syrian- and British-trained opthalmologist, was appointed president in 2000 on the death of his father, Hafez al-Assad, who had ruled the country for three decades. During his presidency, Syria adopted a liberal free market economy, promoted tourism, and introduced mobile phones and the internet. But since March 2011, his government has been battling an insurgency in which 100-160,000 Syrians have been reportedly killed.
Dr Assad “thanked all the Syrians who turned out en masse to vote” and said they are “proving day after day their belief in a culture of life, hope and defiance, in the face of a culture of death, terrorism, and narrow-mindedness.”
After touring polling stations during Tuesday’s voting, delegations of parliamentarians and officials from Russia, Iran and Venezuela and another two dozen countries reported that the election took place in accordance with the constitution and “in a transparent and democratic way”. Voting was extended until midnight to accommodate all who wanted to vote. As the polls closed, central Damascus reverberated with the roar of outgoing army artillery shells and the crash of incoming mortars.
Syrians consulted by The Irish Times dismissed Washington's claim that the election was a "disgrace" because it was held at a time of war and argued that Iraq and Afghanistan, both facing civil conflicts, have not been condemned for holding elections this spring.
At least 27 people were reported killed on election day, three in Damascus during a barrage of 130 insurgent mortar shells, 19 in Aleppo, where the army and mainly fundament- alist militias continue to battle for advantage and streets between government and insurgent-held areas change hands on a daily basis. Due to a shortage of arms, the two sides have been relying on homemade weapons: the Syrian air force on inaccurate barrel bombs dropped from aircraft and the insurgents on bombs constructed of metal tubes packed with explosives and shrapnel delivered by catapults.