No one had any doubts about the outcome of the Syrian presidential election in which President Bashar Al Assad got re-elected with a brute majority. It was also an election whose outcome nobody was looking forward to – not even Assad. Its only news value lay in the fact that it was held amid war. It’s rarely that elections, in whatever form, are held when a country is torn by war.
If Assad chose to conduct the election in these trying times, it was to send a message – that he is not going anywhere. He wants his enemies – both inside and outside the country – to acknowledge this reality and plan the future accordingly. There is no benefit in denial, no gains in proclamations of success by the rebels, and no meaning in calls for his removal. Lebanon’s Hezbollah, the chief ally of Assad, said that Assad’s re-election proves any solution to the country’s conflict “begins and ends” with the embattled leader. “Those who want to work for a political solution must talk to him, negotiate with him and reach a solution with him,” Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised address.
Even if the election doesn’t make any difference on the ground, it shows that the time has come for the international community to shed its lethargy. One area where a beginning can be made is on the issue of refugees and by sending aid to Syrians trapped in the conflict. Many among Syria’s 2.8 million refugees think Assad is here to stay and want to go back, whether they have supported him or not. Their presence is also a huge burden for the countries where they are stuck, including Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.
Delivery of aid needs to be another priority. According to reports, the humanitarian crisis in Syria is now as bad as the one in Bosnia in the 1990s. Corridors need to be opened up to get aid to areas blockaded by the regime. The West and the United Nations need to take a firm stand at least on this issue. Stiff sanctions need to be imposed on Assad and his officials if they try to thwart the supply of humanitarian aid.
Washington and its European allies must realize that their Syrian policy has been a failure, if at all they can claim to have a policy. There is a dire need to take a relook at the issue and fill the policy vacuum. If they think that a solution without Assad is not possible, as Hezbollah claimed, there is a need to launch negotiations with Assad as a participant, or if Assad has to be removed to bring peace and democracy to the country, efforts must be made to achieve this goal. But nothing can be more damaging than procrastination.