Damascus, Syria — On June 3, nearly 12 million Syrians cast their ballots at one of the 9,601 polling sites across Syria. With turnout out at 72 percent, including the millions of Syrian refugees who live across the world, President Bashar al-Assad from the Ba’ath Party won the election with over 88 percent of the vote. Defeated was communist legislator Maher Hajjar, known for leading the protest movement in spring 2011 which called for better programs and assistance for the poor, who had 3.2 percent of the votes. Prominent businessman Hassan Abdullah al-Nouri also ran and received 4.3 percent.
In Homs, Latakia, Damascus, Suwayda, Aleppo and across nearly all of the country, election day was marked by spontaneous parades, car caravans and mass rallies of thousands of people, all showing the jubilation of the Syrian people and their accomplishment of a popular election amidst insurgent violence. Polls stayed open until midnight to accommodate the massive turnout. For millions of Syrians, this election meant more than an expression of their right to vote. The Syrian people were celebrating their right to exist free from foreign domination and violence.
Destruction of Syria — ‘Made in USA’
For more than three years, Syria has been under attack by U.S.-supported right-wing insurgents who want to overthrow President Assad and bring Syria under the control of the U.S. and Europe. Since 2011, it is estimated that more than 160,000 people have died because of the fighting, including over 62,000 pro-government fighters, over 53,000 civilians and around 26,000 armed insurgents. Many others are unaccounted for. Over 13,000 foreign troops have died in Syria on the side of the right-wing insurgents. Over 100,000 Syrians have voluntarily organized people’s militias and joined side by side with the Syrian army to defend their country. Due to the massive destruction of constant war, unemployment and poverty have skyrocketed. (cbc.ca, May)
Tens of thousands of insurgents, a large percentage of whom are from North America, Asia, Europe and Australia, have been the instigators of violence with the help of hundreds of millions of dollars and material support from the United States, Canada, Europe, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. According to Syrian officials, insurgents have come from 87 different countries. The fighters are waging a proxy war for the U.S. and its goals of regime change. Many of the insurgents are fighting for religious reasons, while others are fighting because their family members’ lives are threatened if they don’t join the insurgent armies. While there is not an estimate of how many insurgents have died so far, it is safe to say that they are responsible for killing the vast majority of the people who have died since the beginning of the war.
Damascus, considered the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, is the site of nearly hourly insurgent mortar bombing. Irregular warfare, involving bombs carried often by pickup trucks, as well as suicide bombings, are some of the preferred tactics of the so-called “rebels.”
In 2011, the U.S. and its allies likened the protest movement in Syria to other uprisings in the Arab world. Yet now those who protested are with President Assad, including presidential candidate Hajjar. Rather than a revolution, the war in Syria is a counterrevolution. The insurgents have bombed over 600 hospitals and medical facilities, including one of the largest cancer centers in Asia, which has a policy of treating all cancer patients for free.
Every day, insurgents attack bridges, highways and power plants, causing regular power outages for millions of Syrians. Entire textile factories have been occupied by insurgents, who have proceeded to move them to Turkey and reopen these factories for their own benefit. Oil fields which produce 380,000 barrels a day, which brought in $12 billion a year with which the Syrian government used to provide subsidized food, jobs, housing, free medical care and free education at all levels, is now controlled by al-Nusra, an affiliate of al-Qaida.
Assad’s popularity grows
Despite this tremendous violence and devastation, the Syrian government led by Assad has continued to grow in popularity. Rather than going into exile, Assad has become more prominent. Rather than restricting the political processes, he has opened up the constitution and continuously moved for a political end to the violence.
The presidential election has proved Assad’s popularity. In Lebanon and Jordan, hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians waited for hours to vote at the Syrian embassies. So many people wanted to vote in Lebanon, where over 1 million Syrians now live, that the voting had to be extended for a second day. Thousands of Syrians fled back into the country to vote. This was the first blow to U.S. and European claims that this election was not legitimate. Syrians voted in the presidential election at a total of 43 embassies around the world.
Yet Syrians in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, France, Germany, Belgium, the U.S. and Canada could not vote at their embassy because these countries did not allow it. Twenty-five Syrians from Arab Americans for Syria and the Syrian American Forum flew from the U.S. to Syria to vote in the election and show support for their government.
Washington’s hypocritical response
U.S. President Barack Obama spoke on the Syrian crisis in May at the West Point Military Academy graduation, saying that the U.S. would “coordinate with our friends and allies in Europe and the Arab world to push for a political resolution of this crisis.” Then, in the same speech, he announced hundreds of millions of dollars of aid — bombs, missiles and mercenaries — to so-called “moderate” insurgents in Syria.
Just days before the election in Syria, the U.S. went out of its way to congratulate Egyptian coup leader and now President-elect Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for his resounding election victory. Al-Sisi won over 96 percent of the vote, amid low voter turnout that forced voting to be extended to three days in hopes of augmenting somewhat the meager turnout. Yet far fewer than half the electorate voted and many of the peaceful opposition leaders in Egypt had been imprisoned prior to the election.
Two of the main partners of the U.S. in the war on Syria are Saudi Arabia and Qatar, both monarchies which do not have elections, freedom of speech or any respect for human rights.
Rather than taking part in the election or running an electoral opposition to Assad, the armed insurgents declared their intent to disrupt the election by spreading violence to intimidate voters across the country. On the day before election, in Aleppo, the biggest industrial center and second largest city in Syria, insurgents bombed the city, killing at least 20 and injuring 80. Yet that didn’t stop thousands there from voting the next day.
Western media focused on desperately demeaning the Syrian election. Reporters focused on the lack of viable candidates, yet the opposition boycotted the elections under the direction of the U.S. This is mostly because Assad is so popular that he could not have been defeated. The insurgents are often divided and offer no intelligible political program other than one of creating a weak Syria dominated by the U.S. and its allies.
The imperialist media continued their hypocrisy by declaring how impossible it is to have a wartime vote. Yet recently, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Honduras and Ukraine, the U.S. has pushed for elections in times of crisis. The denials of Western media cannot hide the fact that the vast majority of Syrians believed in this election, voted for President Assad and will continue to fight until their country is free from U.S.-backed mercenaries.
International observers to historic election
Election observers from 32 countries, including elected officials from the Philippines, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Tajikistan, Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela, Russia and north Korea, as well as activists and scholars from the U.S., Canada, Ireland, Pakistan, Bahrain, India and elsewhere, observed polling places across the entire country on election day. The group was invited by Dr. Muhammad Jihad Al-Lahham, the speaker of the People’s Assembly of the Syrian Arab Republic, as well as the leaders of the High Constitutional Court and officials of the High Judicial Committee for Elections. Observers met with these officials for days beforehand and had free reign over the areas they visited on election day.
William Farinas, elected representative of the National Assembly of Venezuela from the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), toured the southern city of Suwayda on election day, along with elected officials from Brazil, Bolivia, and activists and journalists from the U.S. While visiting a polling place in the Suwayda City Hall, Farinas told Workers World: “We have had a profound relationship between Syria and Venezuela, because of migration and because of our active relationship against U.S. imperialism. Late President [Hugo] Chávez and current President [Nicolás] Maduro have visited Suwayda and formed a friendship. We have built this relationship based on the love of humanity. This election is crucial for oppressed people across the world in our fight against the gigantic monster of imperialism.”
At a closed session of around 100 representatives from across the world on June 4, the participating delegations concluded that the elections happened constitutionally and in “a transparent and fair, democratic way.” The delegates acknowledged the huge participation of the Syrian people in the elections, despite threats of violence from insurgents.
The Syrian people are winning
Recently, the Syrian army retook the city of Homs, the third largest city in Syria. On election day, the people of Homs posted pictures of over 900 martyrs in the city center, representing some of those from Homs killed by insurgents. Due to the steadfastness and many sacrifices of the Syrian people and their leadership, the Syrian Arab Army has been making huge advances in securing peace across the northern parts of the country.
The vast majority of people in Syria right now are optimistic. By uniting the country with the themes of independence, peace and democracy, President Assad has provided important leadership in the face of the greatest threats and arrogance of the U.S.
The Syrian elections are a step forward for the Syrian people. This clear showing of the will of the Syrian people paves the way for a new stage in the struggle against imperialism and towards a resolution to three years of war caused by foreign interference. There is again hope for the millions of refugees and the displaced, as well as the millions of Syrians who want peace and sovereignty.
The election observers of 32 nations declared: “We affirm the responsibility of the United States and its allies for the crimes committed against the people of Syria, and we call upon these countries that support state-sponsored terrorism to cease and desist [punishing Syria for] standing up to the challenges and conspiracies by international imperialism.”
Williams is part of the international delegation to Syria for the 2014 elections. He spent election day in Damascus and Suwayda.