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UPDATED: June 18, 2014 NO. 25 JUNE 19, 2014
Syria's Electoral Experience
Bashar al-Assad strengthens his grip on power via a presidential election that excludes opposition
By Liu Yueqin

These regulations are standard in most countries in the world. However, to Syrian opposition leaders, who have been mostly living outside the country, these regulations prevent them from registering in the presidential election. Without the participation of opposition leaders, Syria's presidential election went quite smoothly.

Syrian opposition leaders have criticized the election since May, saying it was rigged. In their opinion, an election that was held in the middle of a civil war could only complicate the country's political process. Some argued that the newly approved election law is unfair, as a large number of Syrian people were unable to vote due to the chaos caused by the conflict. They said the ordinary people's absence from the country's political life was one of the reasons for the Syrian crisis, adding that the limited election could further deteriorate the situation. Some believe that Syria is stepping into a "new Assad era" marked by the exclusion of the opposition, rather than the long-expected period of political transition.

Far from over

Syria's presidential election caused a stir globally even before it was held. The West publicly opposed it as an inappropriate election that couldn't ensure Syrian citizens' right to vote or a transparent electoral process. The West, headed by the United States, consistently denied the validity of the election result. NATO Secretary General Anders Rasmussen said that none of the 28 NATO members recognize the result of Syria's presidential election.

Sensing Assad might win the election, which was contrary to Washington's expectation, the United States couldn't wait to mess things up. Time magazine reported in April that as the Assad administration was gaining an advantage in the battlefield, the United States was considering selling shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles to the Syrian opposition, which Washington had planned for a long time but dared not do. The report caused strong suspicion about Washington's policy. Moreover, the United States granted formal diplomatic status to the Syrian opposition's representative offices in Washington, D.C. and New York City on May 6, a move that exposed Washington's attempt to interfere in Syria's internal affairs and presidential election.

On May 28, U.S. President Barack Obama promised in an address at the West Point Military Academy that the United States is going to increase assistance to Syrian opposition groups while helping them resist extremists. A recent Wall Street Journal report said that Obama might send a limited number of U.S. troops to Jordan to help train "moderate" Syrian militants.

Analyzing the curve of U.S. intervention in the Syrian crisis, a conclusion can easily be drawn that as long as the Syrian Government maintains battlefield dominance, Washington will continue to provide arms to Syrian opposition groups. Obama must be cautious that the stone he is carrying might drop to hurt his own feet because he now is raising the stakes on the unreliable side of the equation.

Assad's election victory is significant, as the triumph has promoted his political reputation and legitimacy while enhancing national cohesion and people's support of the government. The Syrian Government has proven that it is a legitimate regime capable of administrating the country. Without external interference, the government will be completely able to quiet down the opposition's anti-government activities.

The United States declared that it will continue to support "moderate" Syrian opposition groups in confronting the current Assad administration. Washington and Europe's solution to the Syrian crisis calls for the ouster of Assad. As Assad's victory in the election will consolidate his administrative basis, it will be more difficult for Washington to accomplish its goal. Now the United States intends to realize a regime change in Syria by training "moderate" Syrian opposition groups. A new round of political marksmanship is on the way. Clearly, Assad's victory in the presidential election didn't equal a turning point in the Syrian situation, nor has the country's crisis eased up with the election. The quest for stability and peace is still far from over.

Email us at: yanwei@bjreview.com

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