The decision by Syrian President Bashar Al Assad to hold presidential elections on June 3 amid a raging civil war is like calling for soft music to be played in a battlefield amid the sound of gunfire. The move, which is ludicrous, needs to be outrightly condemned.
A day before he got the election announced by his servile parliament, Assad appeared in public and was shown talking to citizens and families in a Damascus neighbourhood. The Syrian dictator — now an object of derision across the world — often has his pictures flashed by the state news agency. As Syria burns, the handout photographs show a pleasing Assad chatting up citizens, kissing a child here, putting his arm around a person there. These shots of the Syrian leader try to show that nothing much has changed in the country that has lost close to 150,000 people to bullets and bombs and where more than a million have been rendered homeless.
Like a recalcitrant dictator, sticking to power has been the favourite game of Assad, who is married to a banker educated in the West. The White House has denounced the move, saying that “Assad was making a mockery of his own pretentions to be a democratically elected leader.”
Even thinking of holding an election when bloodshed is the norm and bombings an unsurprising distraction, is criminal. Assad’s predilection for denying the actual state of his country is known. There are hundreds of pockets in the West Asian nation where there is no government control and gunmen belonging to one opposition group or another have a say. How does the Syrian regime plan to hold free and fair elections in this bloody chaos? Even the elementary logistics of printing ballot papers and transporting them to polling stations will be a challenge for the government.
Holding a presidential election in this climate of violence and fear will amount to making a mockery of the exercise that anyway is not practiced freely in Syria. The leaders of such countries always win elections with overwhelming majority. The percentage of votes cast is usually in the high 90s and there is no one to challenge the winner’s legitimacy even though it is an open secret that the polling was not free and fair.
Assad maintains there is not much wrong with his country and the way he has ruled it for decades. Blaming what he calls terrorists for the predicament of Russia, the Alawite leader has pointed the finger at other nations for trying to destabilise his government. In this attempt of his, Assad has been helped immensely by Russia and China — who have stood steadfastly behind him.
Assad will probably sail through the June 3 election. But that would be another step of his toward the end.