By Yaşar Yakiş
June 11, 2014
The presidential election held in Syria on June 3 ushered in a new phase of the Syrian crisis.
Observers from 30 countries monitored the election and issued a statement indicating that the elections were free, fair and transparent. However, those who say that the elections were a mockery of democracy has every reason to characterize them so, because democracy requires much more than what took place last week in Syria. The US, the EU and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) declared the election illegitimate.
Having said this, those who believe that there is nothing new in the Syrian election will also be missing several conclusions that could be drawn:
irst, the exact size of the geographical area controlled by the opposition is not accurately known, but the following calculation suggests that the population living in these areas constitutes only a very small portion of the Syrian population: In a country with 22.5 million inhabitants, having 15.8 million registered voters, including those who live in the opposition-controlled areas, is in line with the international average. Since the turnout was 73 percent, those who did not vote because they live in the opposition-controlled areas are part of the remaining 27 percent of registered voters. But this 27 percent includes those who did not vote for a variety of reasons, such as a reluctance to vote, more important daily job, sickness, residing in a part of the country where voting stations are not set up, a boycott conducted by Kurdish groups, etc. Therefore, those who live in the opposition-controlled areas seem to be only a small part of the 27 percent of registered voters of the entire population of Syria.
Second, around 3 million Syrian refugees (one-fifth of the voters) live outside their country. The relatively high turnout in the elections indicates that many of them may have voted. The 87 percent of votes won by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad shows that he is also popular among the Syrians who live abroad to a great extent.
Third, a 73 percent turnout is much higher than what could be ordinarily expected. Irrespective of who emerged as the winner, such a high turnout has to be assessed properly.
Fourth, President Assad renewed his mandate for another seven years. Whether we like it or not, he is likely to stay in office until a substitute is set up for the present regime. Lesley Wroughton and Missy Ryan, writing for Reuters, posted an article on June 1 under the title “US insists Assad must go, but expects he will stay.” The article says, “US officials privately concede Assad isn't going anywhere soon.” One may presume that there are other countries that share the same line of thinking as the US.
Russia and Iran will regard the results of the elections as proof of the relevance of their Syria policy. Russia has taken it a step further: Ten days before the Syrian elections, a delegation headed by Dmitry Rogozin, the deputy prime minister in charge of the defense industry, visited Damascus. This may be an indication of Russia's future plans with Syria.
Furthermore, Russia is also engaged in promoting an internal conciliation process in Syria that I mentioned in one of my previous articles (see my April 23 article in Today's Zaman). If it succeeds, this process has the potential to bring about a fundamental change in the evolution of the Syrian crisis.
Iran will definitely regard the results of the Syrian elections as justification for continued support of the Assad regime. The visit to Ankara on Monday of this week by Iranian President Hassan Rohani was regarded by the Turkish media as an opportunity for Turkey to explain to Rohani why Iran's policy on Syria was wrong. What transpired in Rohani's talks with Turkish leaders, however, reconfirms that both sides maintained their positions on Syria.
For reasons independent of the Syrian election, Turkey has made an important decision for which it has to be congratulated. It decided, though belatedly, to put the Syrian jihadist opposition group Jabhat al-Nusra on its list of terrorist organizations. This is an important step in adjusting Turkey's foreign policy on Syria to the new realities in the field.