BEIRUT: Syria’s President Bashar Assad has won a fourth term in office with 95 percent of the vote in a ballot dismissed abroad as a “farce.”
With the conflict mostly on hold but his country’s economy in ruins, what are Assad’s priorities likely to be when he kicks off his first post-war mandate?
95.1 percent. That’s the percentage of the vote official results say Assad won in Wednesday’s presidential election, every parameter of which was controlled by him and his Baath party.
The number of votes — 13.5 million — he received far exceeded what some observers had said would be a realistic total turnout, and thousands of people had gathered in public squares on Thursday, hours before the results were announced.
“95.1 percent of Syrians have spoken: Bashar Assad is president of the republic,” was the headline on the front page of the pro-government Al-Watan daily on Friday.
With less than 5 percent of the vote left for his two hand-picked “rivals,” the election result Assad’s regime announced appears to shut down any suggestion he might have used the election as an opening for more inclusive politics.
“The international diplomatic effort to reform Syria is dead, and this election with its authoritarian 95.1 percent of the vote for Assad is the last nail in its coffin,” said Nicholas Heras, an analyst with the Newlines Institute in Washington.
Immediately after results were announced, Assad said “the work phase” for the reconstruction of Syria would begin. His regime only controls about two-thirds of the national territory and some areas are in ruins, mostly as a result of his own forces’ bombardments.
Western powers like the US or France that once insisted on Assad’s departure have described the ballot as “neither free nor fair” and “a farce.”
“Beside this description, they have very little leverage,” said Karim Emile Bitar, a Middle East analyst and professor at Saint-Joseph University in Beirut.
In the long run, however, Bitar argues that Assad himself is likely to feel “hostage to his regional patrons particularly Iran and Russia.”
“Sooner or later the game will change and the opposition will see the light at the end of the tunnel, and hopefully a new chapter in the history of Syria might open,” he said.
“But to be honest, at this stage I see very few reasons for optimism,” Bitar said.