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Syrian elections: democratic reform threatens the western agenda

By Tim Anderson - posted Monday, 19 May 2014

There is no doubt that incumbent President Bashar al Assad remains hot favourite for Syria's June 3 elections. Even NATO's advisers put his support at around 70%.

However the country's first competitive presidential elections in recent times threatens to add a 'normality' to Syria's previously one party system, a normality the western powers are desperate to avoid.

Hence Washington's decision to deliver new weapons systems (like anti-tank missiles) to the al Qaeda-style 'rebel' groups, even when it has become clear that the Government and national army are prevailing in most parts of the country.


Let's be clear about these elections, it is not some simple political choice to hold them at this time. They are required by Syria's constitution, before the end of President Bashar's term in July. To ignore this requirement, to suspend the constitution, would have deepened rather than help resolve the crisis.

Of course, a major test will be voter turn-out. Prospects for participation have improved strongly with the recent elimination of armed groups from Homs, Syria's third largest city. A turn-out rate that exceeded that of 2012 would be a good sign for Syria's democratic process.

Turnout in the 2012 Assembly and constitutional reform votes was estimated at a little over 51%; not high, but higher than the 2010 US Congressional elections participation rate of 41.6%. Remember, at that time, the Muslim Brotherhood-backed 'Free Syrian Army' was threatening and delivering death to those who participated in the voting.

No doubt the FSA's al Qaeda-style successors are making the same threats now. But Syria's army has backed them into a few corners. The last thing these sectarian fanatics want is any sort of democracy.

It is precisely because of the constitutional changes in 2012 that Syrian voters now have presidential choices, apart from the incumbent.

The other candidates are Maher Hajjar, an independent communist from Aleppo, and businessman Hassan al-Nouri.


All three candidates have accepted a set of 'national principles' which include support for the

Syrian Arab Army as 'the protector of Syria against any foreign aggression and internal sabotage'. There is no Washington or Paris-backed candidate calling for an Islamic state; such sectarianism remains banned under the constitution.

However neither Hajjar nor al-Nouri can be dismissed as simple patsies for President Bashar.Under current rules each had to secure the support of at least 35 MPs in the current 200+ parliament; and MPs can only back one candidate. That means there is substantial electoral support for the two non-Ba'ath Party candidates, albeit support for those who back a 'secular' or pluralist nation.

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About the Author

Tim Anderson is a Senior Lecturer in Political Economy at the University of Sydney.

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