Millions of Syrians are expected to go to the polls on Wednesday (26) to choose who will rule the country for the next seven years. However, everyone already knows what the result will be: a landslide victory for dictator Bashar al-Assad.
The regime is expected to use election victory to try to show the rest of the world that it has finally overcome ten years of civil war, in addition to ethnic strife. The country has one of the most authoritarian dictatorships on the planet and occupies the last places in the international ranking which measures the quality of democracy.
Thus, neither the opposition nor much of the international community recognizes the legitimacy of the vote – of the record 51 candidates who registered, 48 were excluded.
As a result, besides Assad himself, only his former minister Abdullah Salloum Abdullah, and Mahmoud Ahmad Marei, a member of one of the few opposition parties tolerated by the regime, are also officially in the dispute. Both are seen as little-known names internally and with no chance of winning.
In the last election, in 2014, the dictator got 88.7% of the vote, and the number is expected to be close again – voting takes place without the presence of observers who can independently attest to the veracity of the results. .
Assad has chosen to fight unemployment as the main motto of his campaign, promising that there will be work for everyone in rebuilding the country.
The nearly 12,000 polling stations were adorned with photos and images of the dictator, who also monopolizes state media. According to the Qatari television station Al Jazeera, outside these places, supporters of Assad carry out actions to attract voters and celebrate the regime.
On Wednesday, the government decided to extend the hours of the polling stations, which will remain open until midnight local time (6 p.m. Brasilia). In an attempt to increase attendance, the regime has organized major acts of support for the dictator in recent days, and officials have been called upon to vote.
In this scenario, the governments of the United States, United Kingdom, France, Italy and Germany said in a joint statement that the election was “neither free nor fair”. The group called on the regime to allow the UN to hold the vote and allow all internal refugees in the country to participate – an estimated 11 million people have had to leave their homes as a result of the ongoing conflict. The regime did not agree to any of the requirements.
“As a state, we don’t care about these announcements. The value of these opinions is zero, ”the dictator said in response to the five countries after voting Wednesday in Douma, a city on the outskirts of Damascus. “Syria is not what they [as potências ocidentais] they try to make believe, one city against another, one tribe against another, or a civil war, ”he added.
In 2018, Douma was the scene of a chemical weapons attack that killed at least 50 people, and the action is suspected to have been taken by the regime – the case prompted Paris, London and Washington to order a bombing in retaliation.
This is just one of the denunciations of war crimes or crimes against humanity that weighed on Assad, who has been in power since 2000. He took over the country after the death of his father, Hafez al-Assad, who had took control in a coup in 1970 and spent the next three decades as a dictator. Unlike his son, he never allowed his rivals to run for office and won every election with rates above 99%, according to officially released data.
Bashar al-Assad, who is a doctor, was seen as a reformer within the regime, and his rise was initially hailed by the West, which saw it as a chance for openness. The situation changed, however, in 2011, when protests against the dictator erupted amid the Arab Spring and, subsequently, the civil war.
The conflict has claimed more than 100,000 lives in a decade, destroyed the economy and infrastructure and pushed 90% of the population into poverty. Despite this, the dictator managed to stay in power – in large part thanks to the support of Russia and Iran, who act as international guarantors of the regime.
The two governments even support the new re-election of Bashar al-Assad, who is expected to assume his fourth presidential term.
The current scenario is therefore quite different from the start of the war, when the Syrian leader came to see his command position threatened when his troops lost ground to both pro-democracy rebel forces and the state. Islamic. The military reinforcement of Tehran and Moscow, however, guaranteed the survival of the regime, which has gradually reclaimed the lost area and currently controls around 70% of Syrian territory.
In Idlib, an area in the north of the country that remains under rebel control, protests were held against Assad on Wednesday. In the northeast, the Kurdish-controlled region with American backing has decided to close its borders with the rest of the country, preventing residents from traveling to Assad-controlled territory to vote.
In the south, leaders in the town of Daraa – one of the last to surrender to regime forces – called a general strike to protest the vote, and much of the trade was shut down. According to witnesses, the rebels even attacked vehicles carrying ballot boxes in the region. These uprisings point to some of the challenges the dictator will face over the next seven years in power.
“The big challenge lies in the post-election. To what extent will Assad be able to keep the economy going and deal with Syria’s problems, even with the help of the Russians and the Iranians, is the big question, ”Danny Makki, researcher at Washington-based Middle East Institute told Al Jazeera.
Chronology of the conflict
Protests against the detention and torture of children and youth who graffiti against Assad have spread across the country and sparked a month-long wave of protests against the government’s authoritarianism. The repression is strong.
In July, the soldiers who left the army announced the formation of the Syrian Liberation Army. In the following months, fighting began with government forces.
In August, the US, UK, France and Germany called for Assad’s resignation. He is subject to international sanctions, but China and Russia are banning action against the Syrian government in the UN Security Council.
In the first half of the year, the UN tries to negotiate a ceasefire, but the agreement is violated. The situation repeated itself several times during the war.
In February, Assad holds a referendum to change the constitution. The proposal is approved, but the rebels consider it illegitimate. In July, the Red Cross began labeling the conflict a civil war.
Rebel forces advance and take control of cities, such as Aleppo. Hezbollah soldiers travel to Syria to fight alongside the government.
In April, the jihadists announced the creation of the Islamic State. The terrorist group manages to occupy the town of Raqqa, as well as various parts of Syria and Iraq, but is fought by other rebel groups.
In August, Assad launches sarin gas attacks on the rebels, creating international pressure, but the US and UK withdrew from a military attack. Agreement is reached for the government to hand over its chemical weapons.
In September, the United States and an international coalition began carrying out airstrikes against ISIS in Syria.
EI declares the creation of a caliphate in June. The international coalition is stepping up attacks against the group.
In May, ISIS dominates Palmira, a city of ancient monuments. The group destroys part of it and publishes videos.
In September, Russia actively enters the conflict and begins bombing Assad’s opponents, which is a game-changer in favor of the dictator.
Assad’s government regains control of Aleppo, dominated by rebels since 2012, and Palmira.
Turkey signs agreement with the European Union to prevent Syrian refugees from reaching Europe.
In April, government forces carried out gas attacks on Idlib. In response, the United States bombs Syrian military bases and decides to help the Kurds to arm themselves.
EI was expelled from Raqqa, considered its capital, in October.
US, France and UK bomb Assad’s forces after another chemical attack on the Duma.
Idlib becomes the last area under full rebel control, and the Syrian government begins an offensive to attack the city. Turkey, however, supports the rebels. Russia and Turkey reach agreement to create a demilitarized zone.
In March, ISIS lost Baguz, its last stronghold.
Assad’s forces invade the demilitarized zone in an attempt to retake Idlib.
In October, the United States withdrew from Syria and stopped supporting the Kurds, who were its allies in the fight against ISIS. Shortly thereafter, Turkey launched a military operation against Kurdish militants in Syria. The Turkish government says the operation aims to create a reception area for Syrian refugees in Turkey.
In February, after Turkish soldiers were killed in Syria, tensions between Russia and Turkey intensified, but the countries negotiated a ceasefire in March.
The pandemic is strengthening in Syria from the second half of the year. The country is going through a serious economic crisis, with a historic decline in the value of the local currency.
In June, the United States announced tough new sanctions that could freeze the assets of any person or company doing business with Syria in various industries, including construction and energy. At the end of the year, Israel launches attacks against Iranian forces in the country.
The Biden government orders an attack on the military structures on the Iraqi border, which are said to be used by the Iranian militias.
In March, the Syrian pound recorded a record decline: 1 dollar buys 4,000 pounds on the parallel market. In mid-2020, the price was 1 to 2,500.
The sides of the conflict
Syrian dictator, he has been in power since 2000. He is the son of another dictator, Hafez al-Assad, who ruled from 1971 to 2000. He almost lost the war, but his government currently controls around 60% of the country .
Stateless nation with around 40 million inhabitants, spread over parts of Syria, Turkey, Iran and other countries. The Kurds are part of the YPG militia, which fights in Syria, and the PKK, a party which defends the independence of part of Turkey. The Turkish government is fighting the YPG in an attempt to weaken the PKK.
Terrorist group, came to dominate large areas and cities of Syria, but was defeated. Although without a territory, he continues to try to keep his ideology alive and ends up calling for terrorist attacks.
The group, whose acronym stands for Uprising Liberation Organization, is seen as an heir to Al-Qaeda in Syria and defends a radical view of Islam. Dominates the Idlib region.
SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces)
Group that controls areas in the northeast of the country and is formed by various militias, including the YPG. He is an opponent of the SNA.
Former Free Syrian Army, it is a rebel group that fights alongside Turkish forces. He is an opponent of the SDF.