Syria's 9.4 million voters will have the chance on Monday to do formally what the country's leadership has already done -- endorse 34-year-old Bashar Assad to succeed his late father, Hafez, as the country's president.
It is the last step in Bashar's swift rise to power, one month exactly after Hafez Assad's death ended an iron-fisted reign of nearly 30 years.
Since the Syrian parliament unanimously endorsed Bashar, the ruling Baath party's only candidate for the job, on June 27th and set July 10th for a national confirmatory plebiscite, the country's political machinery has concentrated on one thing -- ensuring the London-trained ophthalmologist gets the maximum vote.
Few people are expected to put their cross in the gray 'no' box opposite the single question on the ballot paper: "Are you for the candidate of parliament to the post of president of the republic, Bashar Assad?"
The results declared in parliament Tuesday will instead show that voters at 11,000 polling stations in Syria and 58 in neighboring Lebanon, where some 30,000 Syrian troops are stationed, overwhelmingly ticked the green box for 'yes'.
In the words of Interior Minister Mohammad Harba, the "real plebiscite took place after the announcement of the death of president Hafez Assad".
Speaking to the press, Harba said "we saw the real plebiscite in the parliament," which unanimously endorsed Bashar's candidacy on June 27th, "and in the streets, where citizens wept at the death of president Assad and, at the same time, acclaimed Bashar."
Even so, the authorities are leaving nothing to chance, organizing daily meetings and popular demonstrations around the country supporting Bashar's candidacy.
Labor unions, professional organizations and civic groups, as well as the seven political parties that form the Progressive National Front governing coalition under the Baath party, have issued statements affirming their support for and confidence in Bashar.
On Saturday, two days before the vote, the highest organ of the Baath party, its regional leadership, issued a statement saying that "for the people, Doctor Bashar incarnates hope and youth as well as the pursuit of the policies of Hafez Assad."
State radio Friday said that he represented "change and evolution." It asserted that "the tasks ahead are difficult, and Bashar Assad is the best suited to face the challenges."
It said "the tasks are difficult, and Bashar Assad is the most suited to face the challenges."
The "modernization of state institutions and of the law is necessary. Banks should be developed, as well as the universities," the radio said.
It called on the voters to approve Bashar, saying that would "reinforce his negotiating position with Israel."
Bashar "will follow the steps of the late president, who was firmly committed to a complete Israeli retreat from the Golan to the borders of June 4, 1967, and to Syria's rights to its water," it stated.
Peace talks with Israel resumed last December but stalled a month later over Israel's insistence that it will not give up access to the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, which is the country's principal source of fresh water.
Bashar, groomed for the presidency by his father for the past six years, saw his training process interrupted by the latter's death at the age of 69.
But in just 10 days, after a constitutional change to lower the minimum age for a presidential candidate from 40 to Bashar's 34, he was made the ruling party's sole nominee for the top job, head of the armed forces and secretary-general of the party.
Polls will open at 7:00 a.m. (0400 GMT) on Monday and, technically, remain open for 12 hours. However, Interior Minister Harba said voting may continue until 10:00 p.m. if voters are still queuing up at polling stations - DAMASCUS (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)