Syria holds presidential elections despite international criticism

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Presidential elections in Syria were held on Tuesday despite accusations by the exiled political opposition, Western and Gulf countries, and rebel fighters that the elections are a sham.

Voting took place at 9,610 polls across Syria in areas under the regime’s control. President Bashar Al-Assad and his wife Asmaa were seen casting their votes in one of the polling stations in the capital Damascus. It is expected that President Al-Assad will win the elections with a landslide victory as he is running against two relatively unknown candidates; former minister Hassan Al-Nouri and parliamentarian Maher Hajjar.

A man marks a ballot paper in the country’s presidential elections in Aleppo, 3 June 2014.
(photo: Reuters)

According to Reuters, some residents in Damascus reported that mortar shells hit residential areas. They believe the attack may be the work of rebels. There are no reports of any casualties. A rebel group known as the Islamic Al-Nusra Front vowed not to target any of the polling stations because they do not want to endanger civilians in their battle against Al-Assad. They also called upon other rebel groups to do the same.

Meanwhile, CNN reported that war planes bombed anti-government neighbourhoods. Also areas in the city of Rastan were shelled, and two people were killed.

There are several reports that Syrians are planning to vote Al-Assad in for a third term because they are seeking stability, security, and are exhausted from the war that has claimed the lives of over 160,000 people, internally displaced nearly 6.5 million people, and forced 3 million others to flee the country.

Many Western and Gulf countries opposed the presidential elections in Syria, going as far as to claim that they were rigged from the beginning. The Syrian regime announced that foreign observers from the United States, and Europe will not be present, however, observers from other countries will be.

Women cast their votes in the country’s presidential elections at a polling station in Aleppo, 3 June 2014 (photo: Reuters)

In a message to Reuters, Information Minister Omran Zoabi said that the voter turnout would send a political message and reflect that rebel groups have no popular support in the country. He further explained that “the armed terrorist groups have increased their threats because they fear (a high level of) participation”.

The US State Department accused Al-Assad of taking steps “to make it difficult if not impossible to have a fair and free election in Syria.”

Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague said that the Syrian government has an “utter disregard for life,” and that the decision to hold the elections “disgusted the international community.”

Commenting on the elections, Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister said “It’s a tragic farce.”

“The Syrians in a zone controlled by the Syrian government have a choice of Bashar or Bashar. This man has been described by the UN Secretary General as a criminal,” he added.

Syrian expatriates cast their votes last week in Lebanon, Iran, Russia, China, Jordan, Venezuela, Yemen, Oman and other Syrian embassies around the world. It was reported that tens of thousands of Syrians turned out to vote, and in Lebanon the voting time had to be extended to accommodate the high voter turnout.

Some Western countries such as France, Germany and Belgium and other countries in the Gulf banned their Syrian population from voting, a form of opposition to the Syrian presidential elections.

The Syrian civil war erupted in 2011 after peaceful popular uprisings against Al-Assad escalated into armed conflict. Several Western and Gulf countries support the anti-regime cause, while Iran, Russia and China strongly back Al-Assad, as demonstrated in the myriad U.N. Security Council vetoes over the past three years.