Assad wins a fourth term after those who disagree stay away

Damascus: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been re-elected, officials said, ushering in a fourth seven-year term in the war-torn country following an election described as illegitimate and a sham by the West and his opposition.

Assad’s win in an election, where officials said 18 million people were eligible to vote, was not in doubt. But in the country ravaged by the 10-year-old conflict, areas controlled by rebels or Kurdish-led troops did not hold a ballot At least 8 million, mostly displaced, live in those areas in north-west and north-east Syria. More than 5 million refugees — mostly living in neighbouring countries — also largely refrained from casting their votes.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after voting in Douma, the site of his regime’s chemical attack and air strikes on the population in 2018.Credit:AP

US and European officials have questioned the legitimacy of the election, saying it violates UN resolutions in place to resolve the conflict, lacks any international monitoring, and is unrepresentative of all Syrians.

Syria’s parliament speaker, Hammoud Sabbagh, announced the final results early Friday (AEST). He said Assad garnered 95.1 per cent of the votes. He said turnout stood at 78.6 per cent. There were no independent monitors checking polling stations during Wednesday’s vote.

Assad was facing symbolic competition from two candidates— a former minister and a former opposition figure.

Assad supporters celebrate the results of the national election in Damascus.Credit:AP

The country is still devastated by the conflict. Fighting has subsided but the war is not over. An economic crisis is getting worse, more than 80 of the population lives below the poverty line and the local currency is in a free fall.

Assad, close associates and government officials are facing widening Western sanctions, added to already existing ones that have escalated as the war unfolded. European and US governments blame Assad and his aides for most of the war’s atrocities.

Fireworks explode over Qasioun Mountain as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad supporters celebrate his re-election.Credit:AP

Damascus erupted in celebrations, with gunfire and fireworks lighting the night sky. Thousands gathered in major squares in Damascus, and the coastal city of Tartus, dancing while waving flags and pictures of Assad. They chanted: “With our soul, blood, we defend you Bashar,” and “We only choose three: God, Syria and Bashar”.

A large stage was set in the capital’s Omayyad Square, with speakers blaring national songs. One singer appeared on a stage in a Tartus square, dressed in the flag of Syria. Almost no one was wearing a face mask, though Syria is facing a surge of coronavirus cases.

The election is likely to offer little change to conditions. While Assad and his allies Russia and Iran may be seeking a new seal of legitimacy for the president in office since 2000, his re-election is likely to deepen the rift with the West, driving him closer to Russian and Iranian backers as well as China.


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