Night Watch

Syria: The Speaker of the People's Assembly, Mohammad Jihad al-Laham announced Wednesday that Dr. Bashar Hafez al-Asad was elected President of the Syrian Arab Republic for a third seven-year term.

Comment: The outcome was foreordained, but the election is interesting and significant. One Syrian commentator pointed out that this was the first election in which the Ba'ath Party in Syria allowed more than one candidate's name on the ballots.

The election numbers are noteworthy because the Syrian voters gave Asad a much stronger vote of confidence than the Egyptian voters gave President-elect al-Sisi. Plus, people voted despite the fighting.

The Supreme Constitutional Court announced that the number of registered voters was 15,845,575. This number apparently includes voters in combat zones because the CIA World Factbook lists Syria's total population as 17,951,639 people. It also includes Syrians outside the country.

The Court's spokesman said 11,634,412 votes were cast, or 73.42% of the total number of registered voters. Just over 400,000 votes were invalid.

This turnout would be impressive in the US, where there is no civil war. It far exceeds the Egyptian turnout in percentage terms. In Egypt, 25,578,233 votes were cast in the presidential election, representing 47.5% of the registered voters.

The point is the civil war gave voters the option and justification to not vote, which the Opposition wanted. Nevertheless, they apparently chose to participate.

President Asad obtained 10,319,723 votes, or 88.7% of the valid votes. That means that 65% of the registered voters chose Asad. In Egypt, al Sisi won 23.78 million votes or 96.91% of the votes cast. That means that 46% of the registered voters elected him.

Several points stand out. The Syrian opposition and the fighting failed to disrupt the election. Syrian Arabs wanted to vote and did. Despite what Western media reported, the election was held in contested areas, including districts of Aleppo.

One opposition leader told the press that he could not understand why Syrians voted so heavily for Asad, instead of just boycotting the election. One voter said he voted for Asad because he represents order and the opposition does not.

If these views are representative, then this election represents a referendum on the opposition's failure to present an alternative to the Ba'athist government in Damascus. In three years of fighting, the Syrian opposition groups have failed to build a popular base of support.


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