This week Syrian President Bashar al-Assad won a new seven-year term with nearly 90 percent of the vote. The elections were only held in the areas that are controlled by the government which are mostly in the north-west of the country, centred around the city of Hama and Damascus. Tens of thousands took to the streets in government-held areas even before the results were announced on 4 June, waving portraits of Assad and the official Syrian flag. The EU has condemned the elections saying that they are “illegitimate and undermine the political efforts to find a solution to this horrific conflict.” They noted that people in rebel-held areas could not vote and that state media promoted the incumbent Bashar al-Assad.
Celebratory gunfire erupted in the capital and in loyalist areas across Syria. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights at least 10 people were killed as the bullets fell back to earth. In opposition-held areas where no election was held 3 June, activists reacted with the Arab Spring slogan of 2011 that has been the rally cry of their uprising: "The people want the fall of the regime." The three year conflict has already left more than 162,000 people dead.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry declared the election “meaningless” and said it would have no impact on U.S. policy. “The elections are non-elections. A great big zero,” he said, noting that meaningful opposition contenders were not allowed to participate. “Nothing has changed between the day before the election and after,” he added.
Kerry also said that the United States continues to support a political solution to the Syrian crisis and announced a new contribution of $290 million in humanitarian aid. This will bring the U.S. contribution to the international effort to aid Syrians to $2 billion. That makes the United States the largest single contributor of humanitarian aid to Syrians.
Although Assad was not the only one contending in the elections, a first in 40 years, the other two candidates - Maher Hajjar and Hassan al-Nouri - have been unable to campaign on an equal footing with the president. Despite this and the fact that many Syrians boycotted the elections in the war-torn country, international observers at the presidential elections in Syria are unanimous that the expression of people’s will was valid and the polls passed in a democratic and positive atmosphere. They include members of parliaments from Russia, Iran, Brazil, Venezuela, North Korea, Tajikistan, the Philippines and Uganda, as well as representatives of Canada, the United States, Ireland, Pakistan, Malaysia and Bahrain.
Russia’s and China’ veto
Two weeks ago Russia and China have vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have referred the conflict in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC). More than 60 countries supported the French-drafted text calling for an investigation into alleged war crimes being committed by both sides. France put forward the draft after the collapse of the UN-sponsored peace talks in Geneva in January and February.
The Syrian government had called the resolution "biased" and an effort to "sabotage any chance of peaceful settlement of the Syrian crisis led by the Syrian people themselves". China had publicly remained silent in the lead-up to the vote. The Syrian opposition National Coalition called the vetoes a "disgrace".
By Merel Berkelmans