Syria to vote, two challengers for Assad – Among the dozens of potential contenders, there are only two candidates who received the green light of the Syrian Constitutional Court to challenge Bashar al-Assad at the presidential elections on Wednesday 26 May. This is the Deputy Head of Cabinet, Abdallah Sallum Abdallah, and of Mahmoud Ahmed Marei, a lawyer who leads the Democratic Opposing Front, a six-party coalition formed in 2018 and tolerated by the regime.

In power for 21 years, Assad is preparing for his fourth seven-year term. There civil war which has been tormenting the country for ten years has not yet ended but the context is certainly not the same as the previous consultation. Thanks to the support of Russia e Iran, Assad managed to regain control of much of the country, with what remains of ISIS reduced to guerrilla warfare in the desert and the other Sunni rebel formations, by the Salafist jihadists of the Fronte Al-Nusra al Free Syrian Army today loyal to Ankara, confined mostly to the northern province of Idlib.

A deteriorating economy

If, as far as security is concerned, the situation has returned to relative normality in various areas of the country, the economic conditions of the Syrians remain very deteriorated, mainly due to the collapse of the Syrian pound. Assad intervened by raising the salaries of civil servants, pursuing speculators and bringing the official exchange rate in line with that of the black market. Opponents, however, argue that these measures will benefit only the Alawites, or the Shiite sect to which the Assad family, a minority in the country, belongs.

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Tuesday was a day of reflection: the demonstrations and electoral events that flooded the streets of Damascus in recent days have been replaced by silence and tranquility before the vote, the first presidential elections since the government regained control from most provinces after years of armed conflict. More than 18 million Syrians (inside and outside the country) are called to vote in an election in which Assad is the favorite.

Amnesties before the vote

A member of the Supreme Judicial Commission for Elections, Heba Seif al Din, he explained to Efe that the people in charge of each polling station will open the polls in the presence of the candidates’ representatives to “make sure they are empty” before the polls open; for their part, voters will have to present their identity card or military document to receive a “signed and sealed” envelope and deposit the ballot paper.

The Syrian president, who took over the leadership of the country after the death of his father in 2000, should be re-elected with ease: in the 2014 elections, when for the first time in half a century more than one candidate stood up after the amendments to the Constitution passed in following the protests that began in 2011, Assad won 88.7% of the votes.

To captivate the sections of the population who look at him coldly, Assad has nevertheless launched some amnesty, first for draft dodgers and for those responsible for petty crimes, then, on 11 May, in favor of hundreds of public officials, judges, lawyers and journalists who had been arrested in recent months for violating the new law on cyber security which punishes criticisms of the government expressed through social networks.

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The skepticism of the USA and France

These are measures that are certainly not enough to convince the international community, which deems the elections illegitimate, above all because they have been prevented from presenting themselves to those who have been away from Syria for 10 years, that is, he had fled the country at the beginning of the civil war that caused hundreds of thousands of dead and displaced, both internally and externally, over half of the population. The United Nations has made it known that the vote does not respect Security Council resolutions calling for a political process to end the conflict, a new constitution and free elections under the supervision of the UN.

A spokesman for the State Department said on April 21 in al Jazeera that the vote “will be neither free nor fair” and that therefore the consultation “cannot be considered credible”. Paris also expressed strong skepticism. The French Foreign Ministry underlined in a note that the presidential elections will be “neither free nor legitimate” and accused Assad of using them to circumvent the “political solution” requested by the UN and the European Union, that is, a negotiation that involves a table the regime with the different sectors of the opposition, with the exclusion of terrorists, jihadists and other armed groups.

Many Syrians living abroad have already been able to vote in recent days at the Damascus embassies of the countries where they reside. There was no lack of tension. From Lebanon, where one million Syrian refugees live, video testimonies of clashes between Assad’s opponents and his supporters have come, taken to vote on buses provided by Shiite organizations.

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