Assad wins reelection
For the first time in decades, there were multiple candidates on the ballot. (AFP/File)
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Celebratory gunfire rang out in Syria and Lebanon Wednesday after President Bashar Assad was declared the winner of Tuesday’s presidential election in a landslide, capturing 88.7 percent of the vote.
Speaker Jihad Lahham, who made the announcement on live television, said Assad’s two challengers, Hassan Nouri and Maher Hajjar, won 4.3 percent and 3.2 percent, respectively.
The Supreme Constitutional Court said the turnout stood at 73.42 percent for the vote, which was held only in regime-held areas of the war-ravaged country.
“The number of people called to vote, both inside and outside Syria, was of 15,840,575. Of the total, 11.6 million participated,” said court spokesman Majed Khadra, giving a turnout of 73.42 percent.
After the results were released, Damascus erupted into a thunderous, rolling clap of celebratory gunfire that appeared to include heavy weaponry. On the streets of the capital, men cheered and whistled. Some broke into the familiar pro-Assad chant: “With our souls, with our blood, we sacrifice for you, Bashar!”
In Beirut, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sharply criticized the election, calling it “a great big zero.” He said it can’t be considered fair “because you can’t have an election where millions of your people don’t even have an ability to vote.”
“Nothing has changed from the day before the election and the day after. Nothing,” Kerry said during a one-day, unannounced visit to the Lebanese capital. “The conflict is the same, the terror is the same, the killing is the same.”
Kerry issued a direct call to Assad allies Iran, Russia and Hezbollah to work to end the war.
“I particularly call on those nations directly supporting the Assad regime – in what has become a grotesque display of modern warfare by a state against its own people – I call on them – Iran, Russia and I call on Hezbollah, based right here in Lebanon – to engage in the legitimate effort to bring this war to an end.”
Damascus and a number of Syrian cities and towns saw people pour into the streets to celebrate Assad’s victory while several pro-Assad regions of Lebanon – the city of Tripoli, the Bekaa Valley and the southern suburbs of Beirut, the stronghold of Assad ally Hezbollah – also saw celebratory gunfire. The gunfire in Damascus claimed the lives of several people, according to an anti-regime monitoring group based in Britain.
“At least three people were killed and dozens more wounded as a result of celebratory gunfire shot by Assad supporters,” said Rami Abdel-Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Several hours before the victory announcement, Assad issued a statement urging supporters to refrain from such displays of “joy and enthusiasm.”
“Our brave soldiers on the front lines defending the country and fighting terror are more deserving of the bullets being fired into the air,” Assad said, in a statement posted on his Facebook page. “Expressing joy and enthusiasm springing from patriotic feeling does not justify the firing of guns into the air, which puts people’s lives in danger.”
His victory was always a foregone conclusion, despite the presence of other candidates on the ballot for the first time in decades. The opposition and its Western allies, including the U.S., have denounced the election as a farce.
The win boosts Assad’s support base, and provides further evidence that he has no intention of relinquishing power.
For the first time in decades, there were multiple candidates on the ballot. In previous presidential elections, Assad and before him his father, Hafez Assad, were elected in single candidate referendums in which voters cast yes-no ballots.
The government has sought to present this vote as a democratic solution to Syria’s three-year conflict, although a win for Assad is certain to prolong the war. Much of northern and eastern Syria is in rebel hands, and those in the armed opposition show no signs of relenting in their fight to oust Assad.
The war, which activists say has killed more than 160,000 people, has left the international community deeply divided, with the U.S. and its allies backing the revolt against Assad, who enjoys the support of Russia and Iran.
That division persisted in reactions to Tuesday’s vote.
The European Union joined the U.S. in condemning the election, saying in a statement that “it cannot be considered as a genuinely democratic vote.”
Leaders of the Group of Seven nations will dismiss Syrian elections as a sham and call on Assad to go, according to the latest draft of a communique to be released after talks late Wednesday. “We denounce the 3 June sham presidential election: There is no future for Assad in Syria,” the G-7 draft said.
In Damascus, meanwhile, a delegation led by the government’s chief international supporters said Syria’s first multicandidate presidential election in over four decades was transparent and free, and would pave the way for “stability and national agreement.”
The delegation of officials from more than 30 countries, including legislators and dignitaries from Iran, Russia and Venezuela, toured polling stations Tuesday. In a final statement read Wednesday by Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the head of the Iranian parliament’s Committee on National Security, the delegation blamed the U.S and its allies for “crimes committed against the Syrian people.”