Syria is to hold its second presidential elections in the midst of a bloody civil war, with no short-term solution in sight. The situation in the Arab country is becoming increasingly complicated, while the conflict seems to have stalled. Syrian society will go to the polls on 26 May, as announced by the president of the Syrian People's Assembly, Hamoudah Sabbag.
The Arab country is facing a serious economic and health crisis. The value of the Syrian pound has plummeted on the black market, accelerated by the financial crisis in neighbouring Lebanon and Western sanctions. Intermittent power cuts have also forced local businesses to close, increasing the level of unemployment in recent months.
The regime has yet to control the entire territory, so elections will only be held in areas under government control. The elections were scheduled to take place between 16 April and 16 May 2021, but will finally be held on the 26th of next month, a few days after the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
This is a very important date as it is the first presidential election called by the government since 2014. Hamoudah Sabbag announced that the deadline for submitting candidacies is open and that they can register with the Supreme Constitutional Court for a period of ten days. Syrians abroad will be able to "vote in embassies" on 20 May, Hammoudah said.
In the last election, amid a bloody crackdown on peaceful demonstrations across the country in the wake of the Arab Spring, President Bashar al-Assad won 88.7 per cent of the vote. These results are likely to be repeated in these new elections, giving the current president a new 7-year term.
The Assad family and his Baath party have ruled Syria for five decades. Bashar al-Assad took power in 200 after the death of his father Hafez, and far from decimating his power at the helm of the country, the 10-year civil war has only strengthened his role at the head of the government.
These new elections are marked by the almost total absence of an opposition, since in order to stand as a candidate it is necessary to have lived continuously in Syria for at least 10 years, which means that opposition figures in exile who fought to end 51 years of Assad family rule are excluded. In addition, candidates must also have the backing of at least 35 members of parliament, which is dominated by Assad's Baath party.
Western powers have repeatedly demanded the resignation of the Syrian president, whom they accuse of crimes against humanity. “These elections will neither be free nor fair. They will not legitimize the Assad regime,” U.S envoy Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the U.N. Security Council last month, on the 10th anniversary of the start of the pro-democracy protests.
The opposition abroad has also expressed its disagreement with the calling of these new elections and has warned that it will not recognise the results. “We consider Assad’s parliament to have no legitimacy, and this is a theatrical farce and a desperate effort to reinvent this criminal regime,” said Mustafa Sejari, a prominent opposition figure.
After 10 years of war, the Syrian government controls most of the country's major population centres. There is also a fragile ceasefire between the government and the rebels in the last rebel-held province, Idlib, in the northwest.
In this context, Syrians are being called upon to vote on the future of a country on the brink of the abyss. With no option that represents a real opposition to Bashar al-Assad, the most likely outcome is the re-election of the current president for a fourth consecutive term, while the country is bleeding to death and experiencing the worst economic crisis in recent years.