What Elections? Syrian Opposition Rejects Assad's Expected Win

Jun 1, 2014
Originally published on June 1, 2014 1:02 pm

Tuesday's elections in Syria are sure to result in another term for President Bashar Assad, even as the international community says his regime is responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians.

The opposition is railing against his inevitable triumph.

At a demonstration Friday by some of the 1 million Syrians who have fled into neighboring Lebanon, the view on the election was clear.

"What elections?" says Mohamad al-Zain, a refugee in the dusty Lebanese border town of Arsal. "They're blood elections. Are we going to vote for the one who killed our children and made us homeless, exiled us, made us immigrants?"

Zain says there are more than 100,000 refugees in Arsal, and not one of them will vote. Angry voices agree, like Abdelmaati al-Kareem.

"All the elections are a failure," Kareem says. "Never in a lifetime will he win, and he'll fail, with God's will."

The force of this rage is evident across the spectrum of Assad's opponents. They say they can't believe, after three years of revolution-turned-civil war, the president is set for re-election.

From the city of Aleppo, amid rubble where the opposition groups say government airstrikes have killed 2,000 people this year, campaigners record responses to the elections.

"We haven't experienced anything like democracy for the last 40 years — are they fooling us in the name of democracy?" one unidentified woman asks.

There's also an outpouring of bleak satire. One fake poster shows Assad as Mafia boss Don Corleone, with the two token candidates running against him kissing his hand. Another entreats voters to pick Iranian military chief Qassem Sleimani for president — a reference to Iranian support for Assad.

The Western-backed political opposition urges people not to vote.

"We boycotted the elections completely," says Khalid Saleh, spokesman for the main opposition coalition, speaking from Istanbul. "We know that they're a sham, not real. Everybody is wondering whether Assad is going to win by 99.8 or 99.9 percent."

Saleh adds that armed rebels aligned with his group say they won't target pro-Assad rallies or polling stations.

But even though opposition factions all condemn the election, they are fragmented and polarized. There are signs that extremists among them will target civilians who vote.

At a pro-Assad rally earlier in the month in the southern town of Deraa, children danced among Assad posters. Then, rockets hit the event.

Over footage of the dying and the dead, state television condemns the attack, "done in the name of revolution." Extremists have announced on social media that they plan similar attacks on rallies and polling stations. In the northern city of Idlib, footage showed civilians streaming out of the city because they believe Islamist fighters may attack during the election.

But the regime is undeterred. Pro-Assad rallies continue in streets plastered with his picture. On Saturday, the Foreign Ministry announced that expatriates had already voted in 43 embassies worldwide. Turnout, the ministry says, was 95 percent.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

On Tuesday, Syrians go to the polls to vote in the presidential election there. But opponents of President Bashar al-Assad are disgusted at the prospect of this vote, which is sure to usher in Assad for another term. Meanwhile, the international community says his regime is responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians.

NPR's Alice Fordham reports on the opposition that is railing against his inevitable triumph.

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: At a demonstration Friday by some of the million Syrians who have the fled into neighboring Lebanon, the view on the election is clear.

MOHAMAD AL ZAIN: (Through translator) What elections? They're blood elections. Are we going to vote for the one who killed our children and made us homeless, exiled us, made us immigrants?

FORDHAM: That's Mohamad al Zain, a refugee in the dusty, Lebanese border town of Arsal. He says there are more than 100,000 refugees there, and not one of them will vote. Angry voices agree, like Abdelmaati al Kareem.

ABDELMAATI AL KAREEM: (Through translator) All of the elections are a failure. Never in a lifetime will he win, and he'll fail with God's will.

FORDHAM: You feel the force of this rage across the spectrum of opponents of Assad. They say they can't believe after three years of revolution turned civil war, the president is set for reelection. From the city of Aleppo, amid rubble where the opposition say government airstrikes have killed 2,000 people this year, campaigners recorded responses to the elections including this unidentified woman.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Through translator) We haven't experienced anything like democracy for the last 40 years. Are they fooling us in the name of democracy?

FORDHAM: There's also an outpouring of bleak satire. One fake poster shows Assad as a Mafia boss Don Corleone the with the two token candidates running against him kissing his hand. Another entreats voters to pick Iranian military chief, Qassem Suleimani, for president, a reference to Iranian support for Assad. The Western-backed political opposition urges people not to vote.

KHALID SALEH: We boycotted the elections completely. We know that they're a sham, not real. Everybody's wondering whether Assad is going to win by 99.9 or 99.9 percent.

FORDHAM: Khalid Saleh, a spokesman for the main opposition coalition speaking from Istanbul. He adds that armed rebels aligned with his group say they won't target pro-Assad rallies or polling stations. But although opposition factions all condemn the election, they are fragmented and polarized. There are signs extremists among them will target civilians who vote.

(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)

FORDHAM: This with a pro-Assad rally in the southern town of Deraa held earlier in the month. Children danced among Assad posters. Then rockets hit the event.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS REPORT)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (Foreign language spoken).

FORDHAM: Over footage of the dying and the dead, state television condemns the attack done in the name of revolution. Extremists have announced on social media that they plan similar attacks on rallies and polling stations. In the northern city of Idlib, footage showed civilians streaming out of the city because they believe Islamist fighters may attack during the election.

But the regime is undeterred. Pro-Assad rallies continue in streets plastered with his picture. And on Saturday, the Foreign Ministry announced that ex-patriots had already voted in 43 embassies worldwide. Turn out, the ministry says, was 95 percent. Alice Fordham, NPR News, Beirut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.