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Islam and Politics ( 25 Apr 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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There's No War in Syria, We’ve Been Imagining It




By Raed Omari

26 April 2014

So, there is no war in Syria. It is safe and sound and the biggest concern of Syrians nowadays is who to support among the "many" presidential hopefuls. In brief, it is the best time in Syria now to hold presidential elections.

Plus, the presidential election is never going to be a "one man show," as it has never been. On every such election in Syria, there is always a fierce competition among the leftist, rightist, centrist, conservative, liberal and secular and Islamist candidates representing all Syria's mosaic.

Not only that, presidential debates have been always the norm in Syria with platforms given to candidates where they can speak freely about their programs to their supporters, who then cast their votes in the ballot box with no fears whatsoever of "Big Brother" privacy invasion.

June 3 elections

For these considerations and in line with the typical democratic atmosphere and the state-of-the-art security now prevailing Syria, the government has recently set June 3 as the date to hold the “periodical” presidential elections.

It is also Syria’s decades-long democracy and accumulated experience in free elections is what encouraged member of the Syrian parliament Maher Abdel Hafiz Hajjar to file his candidacy for the upcoming presidential elections. It is needless to say of course that this is all just hallucination and a projection of a non-existent reality in Syria. The sarcastic tone here is also in response to the surrealism of Syria’s long narrative on presidential elections.

In juxtaposition to the unquestionably dreamlike situation in Syria, reality says that Syria has never witnessed a full-fledged election or even a poll with the minimum requirements of freedom and democracy. This makes one wonders on how such a thing that has never been achieved in the time of peace can be attained in the time of war.

Now aside from politics and democracy, although they have no place within such an absurd context, the question the Syrian government is required to provide is how logistically and administratively can it organize the presidential elections?

Unanswered Questions

Where in the war-torn cities and villages can the polling stations be set up? Except for maybe President Bashar al-Assad's stronghold of central Damascus, there is no place in Syria that can be said is out of harm's way for even shopping, let alone elections.

What about the people in other heavily populated cities like Aleppo and the massively destroyed Homs? How can the Syrian government ensure Syrian’s safety while on their way to the polling centers, assuming that they really want to go there?

What about the Syrian refugees and those displaced from their homes whose numbers, at the time of writing, has exceeded 2, 500,000 and 6.5 million respectively according to the UNHCR? Do the majority of the agonized and grieved Syrian people, plagued with fears, hunger, despair and uncertainty have the luxury to think of elections?

Who will monitor the elections in Syria? Will international press be willing and enthusiastic to cover the polls at the time Syria is classified as the world's most dangerous country for journalists?

There is also the glaring absence of any genuine opposition figures to compete with Assad. Can it be also real that there is no accredited opposition to the Syrian regime to run for the elections even after more than three years of war that began in 2011, primarily against the totalitarian rule of Assad’s family-dominated Baath Party?

In total disregard to the Syrian people, the regime has brought to the scene a parliament member as the first-ever challenger for Assad.

A History of Syrian ‘Elections’

To make the long story short, the idea of an election is something unheard of in the Syrian society. The word itself can be said to be totally absent in the Syrian lexicon, all certainly due to the Syrian authorities’ long history of political and partisan crackdown.

During the Assad family’s 43 year rule, both the father and the son, Syria has never seen presidential elections. It has been only referendum on a single candidate with the results always nearing 100 percent in favor of the “immortal” leader.

Strangely enough, the no rivalry system has been stipulated in Syria’s constitution which used to literally ban free presidential elections before being replaced by an amendment to the Baath-worded fundamental law. Even in monarchies’ constitution, no such thing is there and yet Syria is still called a republic.

Now amidst such a bizarre election reality in Syria, Hajjar has decided “willingly” to run for the presidential elections. It is the last episode in fact in the regime’s poorly directed and written drama.

A Hollow Running Opponent

With no need to go further into the political implications of Hajjar’s presidency bid, the fact that the lawmaker is independent – or at least what is said about him – makes the regime’s political maneuvering very easy to pin point.

Through bringing the “independent” lawmaker, as if there has been ever a genuine lawmaking in Syria, the regime seeks to deliver a message to the U.S.-led West and the U.N. which denounced the vote as a farce, saying, “See, it is not a one-man show. We have an independent candidate who is not necessarily a member of Syria's ruling Baath party.”

It is also a message of negligence and disregard to the Syrian exiled opposition. To color the scene more, the regime may bring or “appoint” more presidential candidates in the coming days, maybe belonging to the internally-made opposition.

Regardless of who may show up before June 3, the upcoming election will bring the incumbent Assad to power again for another seven-year term. To sound more realistic this time, the embattled president may not make it a nearly 100% triumph as it was the case in the abolished referendum system.

Hajjar may win 30 or 40 percent of the votes with the remaining overwhelming majority of votes being “yes” in favor of Assad.

In brief, the upcoming presidential elections of Syria will be certainly another one-man show.

Though still difficult to tell who will participate in the elections, those who will cast their votes in the “already-counted” ballot boxes will have to choose, as tweeted and commented on other social networks by the Syrian people, either president Assad, leader Assad, army leader Assad, Baath secretary general Assad or doctor Assad.

Aside from such a surrealistic scene, there is anyway a clear political message that can be learnt from Assad’s determination on holding the presidential elections. First of all, it reflects the embattled regime’s dissatisfaction with the political solution that rests upon a transitional government involving the Syrian exiled opposition to run the state’s affairs during the interim period.

Syria is not to enter a transitional phase but a new presidency period where the opposition has no place in the regime’s terms.

Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English.