Int’l community unhappy with Syrian parliamentary elections
Syrians cast their votes at a polling station in Damascus during the May 7 parliamentary elections. Polls opened amid tight security and ongoing unrest in some parts of the country. The elections met with criticism from the international community as the Syrian regime has continued its military crackdown on opponents. (PHOTOepa, YOUSSEF BADAWI)
Monday’s election in Syria is unlikely to affect the course of the Syrian crisis, with the international community and opposition groups being unsatisfied by the polls, which are perceived as merely a strategic maneuver by the Assad regime.
“Neither the opposition nor the international community will be satisfied by the election,” Oytun Orhan, an expert on Syria from the Ankara-based Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM), told Sunday’s Zaman.
The elections for the 250-member parliament are the first under a new constitution, which was adopted last February. The new constitution removed the article granting the Baath Party the constitutional status of “the leader of state and society.”
The opposition dismissed the election and called it a “farce,” saying it would not accept anything but the toppling of Bashar al-Assad.
Bassma Kodmani, a spokeswoman for the Syrian National Council (SNC), the main opposition group, said the elections had no credibility at all in the middle of a situation where the regime was killing its people.
“It is an insult to the democratic process,” said Kodmani. Orhan stated that the Assad regime has understood that it can no longer suppress the uprisings using violence. “Assad thought that he could suppress the uprisings through violence. He thought that with the support of Russia, China and Iran, he could avoid an international intervention. However, because the uprisings have not stopped for 14 months, Assad started to fear that the situation might lead to an international intervention. So, this fear led him to take pragmatic steps in the political sphere,” said Orhan.
He noted that the Assad regime used the election as a tool to show to the world that it was complying with the Annan six-point peace plan. The plan endorsed by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan calls for a UN-supervised cease-fire by all parties, the withdrawal of soldiers and heavy weapons from cities and the delivery of humanitarian aid.
“Parliament and government do not make any sense in the Syrian political system,” said Orhan, adding that parliament’s authority was too weak with regard to the president and that it does not have a serious effect on the political system.
The real power is concentrated around Assad; therefore, parliament is not considered an influential body in Syria. Orhan said Monday’s election cannot be considered a multi-party election in real terms. “The Syrian opposition, including the Syrian National Council, the Muslim Brotherhood, Kurds and other opposition groups in Syria, were absent from the election. The election, which does not include the real opposition, makes no sense at all. Therefore, the legitimacy of this election must be questioned,” said Orhan.
The opposition said elections cannot be held under the threat of gunfire. Activists said at least five people were killed by army gunfire a day before the elections. The UN says more than 9,000 people have been killed since the uprising started 14 months ago. Pointing to the security conditions in Syria, Orhan stated that a real election cannot take place under the shadow of bombs.
Agreeing with Orhan on the security conditions in Syria, Ali Hussein Bakeer, an expert at the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organization (USAK), told Sunday’s Zaman that elections and a new constitution were meaningless in a situation where the Assad regime continues its violence on its people and deprives them of their rights. “In any case, a constitution and elections do not mean anything for the Assad regime. The regime’s ‘fake reforms’ do not reflect any real and serious work on the ground,” said Bakeer.
He said the next step by the regime would be to create a “fake” opposition and initiate a dialogue with it to deceive the world that the regime is not opposing any dialogue. “Assad by creating a fake opposition would try to legitimatize its illegitimate presence,” said Bakeer.
When asked how to read the Syrian elections, Bakeer replied that Monday’s elections were part of a broad misleading strategy of the Assad regime to buy more time, stating that Assad was trying to deceive the international community. “This is a strategy to manipulate both domestic and international actors,” said Bakeer. Touching upon the stances of the international actors towards the Syrian elections, Bakeer stated the international response to the so-called elections in Syria varied from France to the US, from the UN to Russia and China. “The Turkish position was loud and clear, but it is not enough because, as many say, it recently entered into a vicious cycle of just statements and talk,” said Bakeer.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Tuesday that he does not consider the Syrian elections legitimate, saying the Syrian crisis could only be stopped through decisive international action.
Erdoğan told reporters that there were no observers monitoring the elections, which was believed to be a sham. He said even parties established by the Syrian regime did not take part in the elections.
“The problem is that there is no real and serious step by the international community to stop the Syrian regime. Even the Annan plan has not been implemented on the ground, not even one point from it. On the contrary, Assad used it as a cover against his opponents and critics,” said Bakeer. World powers have been unable to stop the bloodshed, though the international community supported Annan’s plan. Regarding the UN observer mission, Bakeer stated that although it was necessary and urgent, the increase in the number of observers would not solve the problem in Syria.
About 40 observers are currently in Syria under the auspices of the Annan-proposed peace plan. UN officials hope a wider deployment of up to 300 international truce monitors will gradually calm the situation.
“The Assad regime knows that there is no intention or will for any hard international action against it; moreover, there are even some countries that would still stand with him till the end,” said Bakeer.
“The Syrian people began to see that the time limits given to the Syrian regime by the international community are only an opportunity for Assad to eliminate the revolution,” said Bakeer, adding that without any firm and decisive response to the Syrian regime, the world would face serious consequences on many fronts.
Meanwhile, Annan said on Tuesday that the world can’t wait forever for the truce to work. Annan spoke to reporters after briefing the UN Security Council by videoconference from Geneva, where he warned that failure to prevent a civil war “will not only affect Syria, it will have an impact on the whole region.”
Professor Birol Akgün, a specialist from the Ankara-based Institute of Strategic Thinking (SDE), told Sunday’s Zaman that Monday’s election does not meet the expectations of the Syrian people. “Actually, the elections are not taken seriously at all. It does not result in a concrete solution and is perceived as a fake election aiming to legitimize the Assad regime,” said Akgün.
Akgün stated that the international community would not take such elections seriously unless a competitive situation in the Syrian political system is created. “The election was just for show, aiming to demonstrate that the public supports the Assad regime,” said Akgün.