‘It’s our right!’ Syria votes for president in controversial election amid civil war
Polling station across war-torn Syria have opened for the first multi-candidate presidential election in more than 40 years. Despite loud calls in and outside the country to boycott the vote, many Syrians still want their voices to be heard.
Over 9,000 polling stations have been set up in government-controlled areas of Syria for some 15 million eligible voters. But not everyone will be able to cast their ballots, as rebel-held regions in northern and eastern Syria won’t take part in the election.
The inability to hold a truly nationwide vote in a country where the bloody civil war still rages is one reason opponents of the current authorities in Syria have described the election as a sham.
Another bit of criticism is that the Syrians have not been given an opportunity to make a genuine choice. President Bashar Assad is challenged only by two relatively-unknown government-approved candidates, and is expected to win comfortably.
The head of the main opposition group uniting 12 fractions in and outside Syria, Hassan Abdul Azim, doesn’t believe Tuesday’s vote will change anything.
“A candidate should get the support of 30 percent of the people’s assembly – the body elected by authorities,” Azim told RT. “Which means there is no challenge, no change. It’s a parliament again, and there can’t be any opponent. This is why it’s formal, and illegitimate. This is why we reject it.”
There has also been an online campaign in Syria for boycotting elections. Several groups on Facebook have been calling on people not to vote for those “responsible for the bloody conflict.”
RT’s Maria Finoshina, reporting from Damascus, has however come across many election supporters in the streets of the Syrian capital.
“This is our duty, we can’t allow people from outside to decide for us. Our duty is to vote – in order to protect our country,” says Usam Hammami, a Damascus resident.
Ali Neezam, a nut shop assistant gets emotional: “Even if there are mortar bombs like the terrorists promise us, we’ll go and vote for Bashar Assad. This is our right!”
Rustam Chehayed, a Syrian citizen, who took refuge in Italy three years ago, when the unrest started, returned to Damascus to cast his ballot in the country’s presidential election. He does not understand why the West embraced the election in Ukraine, despite military actions there, yet called for a boycott of the poll in Syria.
“The Italian government prevents us from voting, it deprives us from our right,” Chehayed told RT. “You can’t vote at the embassy there! I believe Syria’s future should be decided by the Syrian people not but other countries’ governments.”
Countries like France, Germany and Belgium, as well the United Arab Emirates, have also prevented Syrians from voting at their embassies. Some, like political writer and journalist Dan Glazebrook, sense double standards in the Western countries’ approach to the Syrian elections.
“It really shows the contempt that the Western countries have for democracy,” Glazebrook told RT. “They have been calling for democracy in Syria for years, and when the elections take place they not only denounced them, but actually banned Syrians from taking part in them.”