Yesterday, Syrians took to the polls in the country’s first multi-candidate presidential elections in more than four decades of Assad family rule. Polling took place only in areas under regime control, and it is widely expected that Assad will claim an overwhelming victory over challengers Maher Hajjar and Hassan al-Nouri.
Despite fears of rebel bomb attacks on polling stations, located in government-controlled areas, officials from the Islamic Front said they would abstain from striking civilian voters and urged other rebel groups to do the same. Meanwhile, Assad officials kept a tight reign on the proceedings, busing voters from their offices to vote.
Some people waiting to cast their votes reportedly chanted slogans in support of Assad, including: “God, Syria and Bashar,” “We will vote for Bashar only,” and “We are your men, Bashar.” In Damascus, Tartous and Latakia, the regime’s strongholds, officials with megaphones drove the streets blaring pro-Assad songs.
Signs bearing Assad’s campaign slogan “Sawa,” meaning unity, are plastered on walls outside polling stations. They also include: “United we will rebuild,” “United we will be victorious,” “United we will continue on our path” and “United we will eradicate terrorism.”
The Supreme Judicial Electoral Committee extended the presidential polls by five hours, closing them at midnight local time June 4.
We spoke to Syrians as they cast their votes at polling stations across the country.
Samira, 37, doctor, Damascus: It’s natural that we don’t see any support for Nouri and Hajjar. The election results are already known; most Syrians who are voting are Assad supporters. The opposition within Syria has boycotted the elections, while the armed groups are holed up in their areas where there is no election. I think voter turnout will be low, especially since there are millions of displaced Syrians outside the country who are opposition supporters.
Salem, 49, self-employed, Homs: I voted for President Bashar al-Assad at the emigrants’ center in Damascus. I voted for him based on the idea, That which you know is better than that which you don’t know. As soon as the president is [sworn in] he should increase the wages of the public servants because the economic conditions are intolerable. As for the current security situation, that can be resolved in the upcoming months.
Sanaa, 23, state employee, Aleppo: The election results are already known. President Assad will win because the other candidates can’t compete with the popular base Assad has as the Baath Party candidate that’s been in power since 1963. The president has hundreds of thousands of supporters in Syria. The other two candidates are unable to compete, neither in popularity nor with regard to their platforms. Nouri and Hajjar presented the exact same platform of what the current leadership is doing with only minor changes.
Ruwayda, 32, engineer, Latakia: I know that my vote will not affect the election results, but I’m casting my ballot because that’s my right. Many Western states want to strip me of that right, and that’s why I’m voting today. Bear in mind I know that the [chances of the candidates in] the elections are unequal, especially when one candidate has been in power for 14 years and he’s the son of Hafez al-Assad who remained in power for 30 years. The other two candidates have neither a political nor a social legacy in Syria.
Nashaat, 21, university student, Damascus: I took part in the elections and voted for President Assad because he’s the only hope we have to save the country from the current crisis. He is well aware of the reality of things and is a seasoned diplomat and politician, which is why he can save Syria.
Salman al-Ameri, 60, Tartous: My son, brother and over 20 people from my village were [killed] in the war led by President Assad. I voted for him so the death of my son and relatives isn’t in vain. Hopefully with the leadership of President Assad, we will rebuild Syria.