Syrian vote: Bashar Assad to win new term as president

Incumbent expected to record landslide victory as opposition deride poll as ‘parody’

Syrians go to the polls today to grant President Bashar al-Assad a new seven-year term in office despite opposition from the western and Arab powers supporting the expatriate political opposition and insurgents waging a war of attrition to topple him. Like the winner of Egypt’s presidential election, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Dr Assad, who came to power in 2000, is expected to win by a landslide. He is seen by many Syrians as the only man who can prosecute the campaign against the insurgency. Dr Assad’s campaign slogan is, “Sawa” [together].

The opposition National Coalition has dubbed the election a “parody of democracy” and the “blood election” since the death toll from the civil conflict is said to stand at 100-160,000. Western and Arab Gulf supporters of the coalition accused Dr Assad of torpedoing a settlement by standing for re-election when they insist he should step down.

The vote is to be conducted in government-held areas as well as at polling stations set up on the border of Lebanon which hosts 1.3 million Syrians. On May 28th, Syrian expatriates voted in diplomatic missions in 39 countries, including Lebanon where 80-100,000 cast ballots.

Two candidates were cleared to stand against Dr Assad. Hassan al-Nouri is a businessman and former minister and member of parliament and Maher al-Hajjar is a communist lawmaker from Aleppo. Both are critical of how Dr Assad has handled the economic and social situation and have expressed their opinions openly . But both agree only he can effectively lead the struggle dubbed by the government the “war against terrorism”.


The more serious of Dr Assad’s rivals, Mr Nouri, who spent 10 years studying in the US and took his doctorate in Geneva, could play a part in the post-election scenario.

As this is the first multicandidate election for half a century, many Syrians able to vote are expected to cast ballots. Having inherited the presidency from his father, Dr Assad has been previously confirmed by two referendums.

Syria’s population is said to be 25 million with an electorate of 15 million. Three million have fled the country and six million are displaced within Syria but most are living in areas controlled by the government. Only one provincial capital is held by insurgents. Therefore, the percentage of the population now in government-held areas could be as high as 85 per cent of the total.

This figure is key to the turnout. The government is calling for heavy participation at a time its forces have made considerable advances on the ground against insurgents and promoted truce and reconciliation in strategic areas.

Meanwhile yesterday, 10 civilians were killed by a rebel car bomb in Homs while insurgent shelling of a government-held area of Aleppo killed 50 over the weekend.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times