Why Assad shouldn't want to win the Syrian elections
In a widely expected move, Syrian President Bashar Assad announced that he would run for the presidential election scheduled early next month.
Holding elections amid the Syrian conflict is in defiance of the international community, which has spent the better part of the last three years supporting a peaceful settlement in Syria.
The envisioned solution included in Geneva I agreement — to end the conflict between the opposition and the Assad regime — is centred on political transition.
Implicit in the Geneva I agreement is that Assad will have no political future in Syria.
Being responsible for the deaths of more than 150,000 people, Assad can hardly qualify to be part of any future settlement in Syria, let alone run for elections. And yet, he has a different plan.
Supported by Hizbollah and Iranian boots on the ground, Assad’s forces have achieved some military success. Therefore, he seeks to capitalise on the new changes and get reelected by a landslide.
More now than ever, Assad is fighting to gain international legitimacy. Right or wrong, he believes that winning the upcoming elections will force the international community to deal with him as the legitimate leader of Syria.
Apart from his winning, Assad seeks to become a partner of the West in its war on terror. His propaganda machine, coupled with Hizbollah’s and Iran’s, is trying to frame the war on the Syrian people’s quest for freedom as a war on terror.
Assad seems confident that the tide of the conflict has turned in his favour. While the opposition groups have put up a good fight over the last three years, Assad realised that the West was never serious in bringing about a change in Syria. In other words, the Western powers failed to put their money where their mouth is.
When US President Barack Obama threatened to strike Assad’s troops, to avert such lethal strike, Assad offered the country’s arsenal of chemical weapons. The chemical deal in effect has given Assad a kind of a contract thus turning him from an international pariah into a junior partner.
Thanks to Obama’s hesitance, Assad began to realise that he can act with impunity.
He interpreted Obama’s hesitancy as a green light to continue his bloody crackdown on the Syrians.
The air force has continued pounding cities, causing thousands of deaths among Syrians and rebels, and forcing a great number of Syrians to leave the country.
Now half of the population is either refugees in neighbouring countries or internally displaced.
Amid these circumstances, the elections will be held on June 3. Millions of Syrians will be absent. Also, candidates have to prove some 10 years of continuous residence in a country that is fraught with sectarian conflict, not to mention the fact that credible politicians who can contest elections have been living in diaspora for a while.
And yet, Assad’s political gambit can hardly be a sign of strength. Indeed, Assad may be more exposed than he looks.
His most recent military advancements can be reversed as the battlefield is a seesaw. If the West provides the opposition with qualitative military weapons, Assad’s troops will for sure suffer grave consequences.
On the other hand, Western powers began to suspect that Assad does not want to give up the entire chemical weapons in his arsenal. If this turns out to be an issue, Assad needs to rethink his interpretation of the Western “contract”.
Far from being assured, Assad is seen worldwide as a dictator who does not hesitate to kill his own people to stay in power.
Not surprisingly, neither the West nor Arab countries can normalise relations with an Assad-led regime. Therefore, Assad’s political manoeuvre may backfire.
By Hassan A. Barari