Many opponents of the regime in Syria were surprised by the image of the presidential election that reached them from Beirut on May 28, the date for expatriates to vote. Crowds of voters closed the roads of the neighboring country, Lebanon, something that made regime supporters rejoice because it came as “a shock to the opposition.”
The vote in the Jordanian capital came two days after the Syrian ambassador to Amman was expelled. In front of the embassy, Jordanian security forces broke up scuffles between Syrian regime supporters and opponents who were fighting about the election.
Obaida, a civil activist based in Beirut, wrote on his Facebook page, “The president [Bashar al-Assad] is elected, … but the voters are appointed.” He said he wasn’t surprised by the crowds that stopped traffic on the Beirut-Damascus highway, considering what happened “the product of planned and organized work, overseen by Lebanese parties loyal to the Syrian regime, and [those behind it] implemented it on most of Lebanon’s territory.”
Obaida told Al-Hayat that, for more than a month, members of parties loyal to the Syrian regime, specifically in southern Lebanon, requested the personal ID cards of Syrian workers in their areas or among employers close to the regime. The party members then recorded the names in special records for the election. That was accompanied by “enticing the refugee with aid or intimidating them through threats of dismissal from work, expulsion from homes, villages and even from Lebanon, and handing them over to the Syrian regime.”
Obaida was living in southern Lebanon. According to what he saw, this “organized campaign” forced many Syrians to vote, pointing out that the day before the election, regime loyalists announced through mosque loudspeakers in a number of areas that “modes of transportation will pass by between 7 and 8 a.m., and anyone who cannot leave early can go to the headquarters of the Baath Party at the nearest point, where cars will be present for transportation all day.” He added that “hundreds of buses and trucks full of Syrian workers” left from all southern villages and other areas around Beirut to the Syrian embassy raising “flags and pictures of Assad.”
Despite this, opposition parties said that the participation rate has been exaggerated. Estimates show that half of the 1 million Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon were entitled to vote because of their age. While many have criticized the refugees who voted in the elections in Lebanon, some say that those who voted have special circumstances that forced them to go and vote, and that others must sympathize with them rather than insult them, they said.
In Jordan, Rami Hussein said that the Syrian regime also pressured refugees who were having their transactions done in the Syrian embassy there, transactions involving passports and other essential, official papers. As in Beirut, activists in Amman started debating the need to pay attention to those who voted for Assad and, rather than call them traitors, find out why they did so.
Hussein believes that the opposition has not been able to find alternative institutions to those of the regime, which controls the Syrians inside and outside the country. He said, “If the [National] Coalition, for example, or the interim government can issue passports and other recognized identity papers, the situation would be much different.”
Obaida agrees with Hussein about the opposition’s inability to attract “its [support base], especially young people, or offer alternatives for the losses that might be incurred by some refugees who oppose the election.”
Ibrahim Hussein, a civil activist living in Turkey, said that “unfortunately, some Syrians have started seeing the solution in Bashar al-Assad staying in power.” Bashar succeeded his father in the presidency in 2000 following a referendum. Hussein added, “A friend in Lebanon told me that she saw refugees coming from the camps to vote for Assad,” and that they justified their action by saying, “Perhaps if Assad wins, the war may end and we may be able to return to our homes.”
The activist told Al-Hayat that this was “a natural result because of the deteriorating performance of the Syrian opposition, its separation from reality and its separation from the people’s worries.” He said the problem lay in “the opposition lacking a vision, its dispersal and its inability to make a decision.” That’s why it is unable to make a stand in such situations, he said.
Raja al-Tali, from the Center of Civil Society and Democracy in Syria, spoke about the position of civil society organizations and activists. She said that finding the root of the problem is better than looking for its consequences, pointing to the need to “not legitimize the elections that will take place only in form and whose aim will only be to grab power and exclude [others].”
She also told Al-Hayat that part of the opposition and some activists think that merely talking about the election legitimizes it, so they have chosen to not talk about it. Meanwhile, media activists began campaigns condemning the election, which they described as “the election of blood.” Some organizations, such as the Center of Civil Society and Democracy, took a clear stance by calling on everyone to not recognize the election’s legitimacy.
Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:
- The award-winning Middle East Lobbying - The Influence Game
- Archived articles
- Exclusive events
- The Week in Review
- Lobbying newsletter delivered weekly