Syrian quagmire

April 27, 2014 - 4:45:24 am

Assad’s decision to hold presidential elections indicates the weakness of his opposition  more than his strength.

Syria is aiming for a ‘free and transparent’ presidential election. “The Syrian presidency... maintains an equal distance from all candidates in order that Syrians can choose their... president freely and transparently,” a statement from the government said. The Bashar Al Assad regime could be thinking that this statement should set at rest any doubts the international community and Arabs are having about the fairness and transparency of the forthcoming polls. And it’s perfectly sensible for Assad to think so because in the conflict that has almost decimated his country, he has been able to stand on his own legs.

The fact that Assad is thinking of conducting a presidential election at this juncture speaks more of the weakness of the opposition than his strength. The Syrian uprising has been stuck in a stalemate for a long time, with Assad making some progress and the opposition foundering and even losing some of the hard-won territories. The international community is in disarray on Syria, the Arab initiatives to help the opposition have hit too many obstacles, the Barack Obama administration is yet to have a credible policy on the issue while Russia and other allies of Assad have been stubbornly steadfast in their support of the regime in Damascus. For the same reason, this is going to be an election no one will look forward to, not even supporters of Assad. The president, whose family has controlled the country for four decades, has yet to announce his own candidacy. There are strong chances he would stand, and there is no doubt that he will win if he does.

What the opposition can do at the most is boycott the election and try to sabotage it. But Assad will deny them even the opportunity of participation in the polls, even if they want to, making the entire election process a palace affair. Under a new constitution adopted in 2012, the year after the country’s civil war erupted, those who have not lived in Syria continuously for the past 10 years are barred from standing. That effectively excludes most of the opposition. Previously, under the current president and his late father, only one candidate was presented, and his name submitted to a referendum.

The fighting is continuing and people are getting killed. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 88 rebel and regime forces were killed in two days of clashes for control of strategic sites in the southern Daraa province.

Syria is one conflict where old ideas are dying and new ones are refusing to take birth. This conflict has become an ugly scar on Arab Spring. Confusion reigns supreme not only in the battlegrounds in the country, but in world capitals too•