BBC News & ITAR-TASS & Jeremy Bowen / BBC – 2014-06-07 00:49:15
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Wins Third Term
(June 5, 2014) — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has won a third term in office after securing 88.7% of votes in Tuesday’s presidential election, the parliamentary speaker has announced. Earlier, Syria’s Supreme Constitutional Court put the turnout at 73.47%.
Voting took place in government-controlled areas, but not in parts of the north and east held by rebels. Tens of thousands of people have died in three years of civil war in Syria, with millions more displaced.
President Assad’s sole challengers, Hassan al-Nouri and Maher Hajjar, received 4.3% and 3.2% of the vote respectively.
It was the first time in decades that someone other than a member of the Assad family had been allowed to stand for president in Syria. But Mr. Assad’s opponents and people living in rebel-held areas dismissed the election as a farce, arguing that it has no credibility in the midst of a civil war.
The opposition’s allies in the West also denounced the ballot, with US Secretary of State John Kerry, on a visit to neighbouring Lebanon, describing it as “meaningless”.
The results were announced by the Speaker of the People’s Assembly, Mohammad al-Laham, on Wednesday. The Supreme Constitutional Court had earlier announced that some 11.63 million Syrians voted out of a total of 15.85 million eligible to cast a ballot.
The win is likely to boost Mr. Assad’s supporters. Over the past year, the government has made significant military gains and rebel groups have fought among themselves.
This is not an election that can be analysed in the same way as a multi-party, multi-candidate election in one of the established European democracies or in the US, says the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen in Damascus.
It was an act of homage to President Assad by his supporters, which was boycotted and rejected by opponents rather than an act of politics, he adds.
The vote has faced sharp criticism from the US and its allies. “You can’t have an election where millions of your people don’t even have an ability to vote,” Mr. Kerry said. The EU said it could not be considered “a genuinely democratic vote.”
A delegation of the government’s main international supporters, including Russia, Iran and Venezuela, said the election was transparent and free, and that it would pave the way for “stability and national agreement”.
In a speech at the China-Arab forum on Thursday, China’s President Xi Jinping did not mention the vote but called for “the opening of an inclusive political process to bring about a political resolution” to the conflict.
Also on Wednesday, the head of the international mission in charge of destroying Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons called on the government and the international community to ensure that the last 16 containers of toxic chemicals were immediately removed from the country.
After briefing the UN Security Council, Sigrid Kaag said Syrian authorities had “legitimate” security concerns about transporting the remaining 7.2% of the stockpile from a “very volatile” area near Damascus to the Mediterranean port of Latakia.
Ms Kaag reiterated that Syria would not meet the 30 June deadline for the complete destruction or removal of its chemical arsenal, but that she hoped it would be completed within a few months.
Observers Find Syrian Polls Valid
DAMASCUS (June 4, 2014) — Observers at the presidential elections in Syria are unanimous that the expression of people’s will was valid and the polls passed in a democratic and positive atmosphere.
On Wednesday morning, observers met for a roundtable meeting at Dama Rose Hotel to give their assessment to presidential elections. Observers include members of parliaments from Russia, Iran, Brazil, Venezuela, North Korea, Tajikistan, the Philippines, Uganda, as well as representatives of Canada, the United States, Ireland, Pakistan, Malaysia and Bahrain.
An Iranian observer opened the meeting accusing the US and its European allies of the policy of double standards when â€œan obvious free choice of Syrian people is put into doubt by Washington and its allies.â€ He urged a US observer to explain why such anti-Syrian hysteria took place. However, the US observer levelled a harsh criticism on the White House, pledging that upon return to the homeland, he would inform the Americans about a real situation in Syria.
The meeting continues behind closed doors. Observers promise to inform the press about the results of the meeting after consultations.
Syria Election: A Ballot Amid a Battle
Jeremy Bowen / BBC Middle East editor
(June 2, 2014) — The Assad regime is radiating a new sense of confidence. The elections would not be held without it. Central Damascus looks less like the capital of a country fighting a civil war than at any time since the war started.
The souks are full and ice cream shops are doing a lot of business now that the summer is here. Portraits of President Bashar al-Assad are not rare in Damascus, but the election means that thousands more pictures, posters, banners and pieces of bunting are festooning the city.
Market stalls sell Assad souvenirs; pendants featuring images of the President and his family next to bracelets of President Assad with his vital ally, Hasan Nasrallah, the leader of the Lebanese Shia militia Hezbollah. Or you can buy yellow Hezbollah rubber bangles, or fridge magnets of Bashar al-Assad, his father, brothers, and allies.
The centre of Damascus was never badly damaged by the fighting. Many suburbs, in comparison, are in ruins. Some areas have been retaken by government troops. Others are still in rebel hands. One soldier pointed to a deep scar on his forearm at the last government position on one highway in north-east Damascus. It was caused, he said, by a rebel mortar.
The Syrian heavy artillery batteries that turned whole districts into rubble still pound. Under the soldier’s position I could see rebel held territory, concrete apartment blocks perforated by high explosive until they looked like twisted egg boxes.
Nine months ago, when the Americans pulled back from the brink of an attack on the Assad regime, the Syrian army’s guns were incessant, thundering round the city. But the rebels in the suburbs were well entrenched. They thought that the tide of war was about to change, perhaps decisively, in their favour. Members of the regime I spoke to in Damascus at the time did not hide their nervousness about the American plans.
The reasons for the Assad regime’s current self esteem start with the fact that the Americans blinked first. Syria’s agreement last September that it would give up its chemical weapons gave President Obama the chance he wanted to stand down his bombers and missiles.
It looked, here in Damascus, a small price for President Bashar al-Assad to pay to avoid an American attack that would have damaged the regime’s forces, been a huge boost for the armed rebels, especially those who fight under the loose banner of the Free Syria Army, the West’s own allies.
One Western diplomat in the region told me that if victory equalled survival, President Assad had already won. But victory also means destroying an enemy, and that has not happened yet. If it ever does, the cancelled American attack starts looking like a decisive turning point for the regime.
Suddenly it was safe from the Americans. The bubble of expectations among the rebels in the Free Army deflated. The view from the Presidential Palace in Damascus became much brighter.
It was also improved by the war within a war that started between different groups of armed rebels, especially the bloody falling-out between the jihadists who had been dominating the fight against the regime. That was brewing before President Obama aborted the attack, but when the two came together President Assad was the beneficiary.
The way that President Obama marched his air force up the hill, and then back down again, also made it easier for Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia movement, to intervene, decisively in some places, in support of President Assad. They could fight without any risk of getting bombed.
Hezbollah’s men are skilled, well armed and fought Israel to a standstill in the 2006 Lebanon war. The militia’s presence, and its fighting abilities, are a vital part of the regime’s new sense of security. The regime, reinforced on the ground by Hezbollah and Iran and with its diplomatic back watched by Russia, has scored significant, though not decisive victories.
But it has made enough progress to judge this to be the right time for an election.
There was talk of one before the crisis last September. But President Assad needed some good news first.
Two main views exist about the election. One, held by those who think that President Assad is part of the problem, is that an election in a country in Syria’s condition is a sham.
The counter argument among his supporters here is the election is not perfect but it is a beginning. One official, who also said everyone knew that President Assad would win, insisted that the election mattered because for the first time since the 1950s Syrians had a choice at the polling booth.
At the beginning of the fourth year of the war, it is hard to remember that when the rebels were on the offensive in 2012 there were reports that the President had fled to a Russian warship in the Mediterranean.
President Assad’s new set of election portraits project the image of an older, slightly plumper, more relaxed and seemingly more secure leader. His other official portraits have not changed much since he inherited power from his father, President Hafez al-Assad in 2000.
The new pictures seem calculated to give the impression that Bashar is, finally, his own man, out of the shadow of his father at last.
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