As widely expected, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been reelected for a fourth term after officials say he captured 95.1% of the vote in an election that the opposition and Western governments labeled a sham.
During a news conference late Thursday, parliament speaker Hammouda Sabbagh said more than 14 million Syrians participated in the election, making voter turnout about 78%. The results give 55-year-old Assad, who came to power in 2000 following the death of his father, the mandate to rule Syria until 2028.
Assad’s two challengers, Mahmud Ahmad Marei, who runs a government-approved opposition bloc, and former deputy minister Abdallah Saloum Abdallah, never stood a chance. Both relative unknowns, they received 3.3% and 1.5%, respectively.
The presidential race took place in the midst of a decade-long conflict sparked by a popular rebellion against the ruling Assad family. Hundreds of thousands of people have died in the war, which has displaced more than half of Syria’s pre-war population. More than 6.6 million Syrian refugees have fled the country, the United Nations says.
The Syrian president has clawed back much of the country with support from Iran and Russia, but pockets of opposition remain in northeast and northwest Syria. Polling took place only in government-controlled areas, disenfranchising millions of Syrians.
The Kurdish-led authorities in northeast Syria refused to take part in or facilitate the elections them. Those living in northwest Syria’s Idlib region, which was the target of bloody government offensives in 2019 and 2020, were also unable to vote.
The election undermines prospects for a political solution, including a long-stalled UN-led peace process that is supposed to pave the way for a transitional governing body, a new constitution and UN-supervised elections.
Ahead of the vote, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a joint statement with his counterparts in France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom calling the Syrian presidential race "fraudulent" and an attempt by “the Assad regime to regain legitimacy without ending its grave human rights violations and meaningfully participating in the UN-facilitated political process.”
Turkey, which backs the opposition seeking to topple Assad, called the elections "illegitimate" and not representative of the free will of the people.
Assad has secured another seven-year term despite an economic crisis that’s left some 12.4 million Syrians — nearly 60% of the population — food insecure, according to the UN. Amid soaring inflation, the price of basic goods has skyrocketed and the currency’s value has dropped to record lows.