Middle East

In Syria: Towards The Elections

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Dr. Dilek YİGİT

Being a result of both internal and external factors and these factors’s mutual interactions, a three-year-lasting civil war has come to a dead end in Syria.

On one hand, contrary to what’s going on in Tunisia and Egypt, Assad’s regime fiercely resisting against so-called Arab Spring and an opposition not being able to gather under a single roof because they have different agenda for post Assad’s Syria and even fighting with other opposition groups; on the other hand, regional actors regarding Syria as a part of geostrategic game in the region and supporting different oppositional elements in the name of shaping so-called post Arab Spring reconstruction for their own interests and global actors’ politics strengthening Assad’s regime rather than  serving their own purposes have brought Syria to a deadlock.

Under these conditions, we should be surprised for those who are shocked at the failure of the Cenevre II Conference. The process itself has given solid signals for the result/inconclusiveness of the conference (signals that the conference was doomed to failure). Rather than what and how they are going to talk, the prerequisite conditions for the meeting showed that there was no willpower for a solution.

Therefore, believing that the Cenevre II conference was not an incident but a process, some might hope that positive outcomes would be achieved from this conference. However, concerns about not being able to provide some solid solution for Syria in the near future are augmenting. What is meant by “solution” here is to end the civil war and to start the democratization process. However, the real issue concerns whether this process includes Assad or not and this issue gains even more importance as the presidential election looms. There are rumours that Assad will be a candidate in the presidential elections, which is expected to be held until July.

While Assad’s regime is getting ready for the elections, the fact that a new electoral law draft has been prepared and it has been ratified by the Parliament with some restrictions concerning the residency rules can be read as Assad getting ready to announce his nomination and trying to prevent opposition figures from running. This new law says, among other candidancy conditions, anyone who wants to stand must have resided in Syria for the past 10 years and this condition clearly rules out many opposition figures in exile.

How would Assad’s nomination and a possible victory affect Syria? From the opposition’s point of view, Assad’s nomination in the presidential elections cannot be accepted because during Cenevre talks it has been underlined that the transition period shouldn’t include Assad. While he is even being rejected to be part of the transition period, it is obvious that the opposition would never accept Assad running in the presidential elections for another term. If Cenevre talks are considered as a process, Assad’s nomination for presidency will block an already slow process. If Assad goes ahead with his nomination despite the opposition and wins, this would mean a defeat for the opposition.

From Assad and his regime’s point of view, if Assad wins the presidential election, he may refresh the legitimacy of his regime not only within the country but also abroad. With this result, so called Spring would be considered as a test which was applied to the regime and which they passed. In this case, it can be easily presumed that Assad would then be very harsh with any opposition in the country.

Assad’s nomination for the presidential election, his possible victory and its effects on both regional and global actors will vary according to the these actors’ priority in Syria issue. With priority being given to Assad’s overthrow and a transition process without him; Assad’s possible victory in the presidential election woud point a failure and false foresight. With priority being given to Syria’s democratization with or without Assad; this victory would direct them to force Assad into a democratization process, to encourage and even to support him during this process. Being known by helping the opposition, being determined to oust Assad and even being critical of the US for not being deterrent and coherent enough against the Assad’s regime, Saudi Arabia was advised by an US specialist to get ready for Assad’s victory and also to start working on the aid packages encouraging Assad to make reforms. This incident reinforces our speculation on the latter scenario. Assad’s victory in winning the election will be considered as a success not only for the Assad’s regime but also for Assad’s supporters – Iran and Russia and as a failure for those who supported the opposition and this will be in Iran’s and Russia’s favour.

Can international political actors have an attempt at postponing the elections in Syria? The West criticizes that the presidential election will hamper the peace efforts in Syria and they expect the election to be postponed. However, as UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon stated, to set a date for the election is a sovereign domestic matter and despite current concerns, international actors’ interfering in when to hold the election is out of question. As the Syrian authorities made it clear that under no circumstances they would accept the postponement of the elections, it has been once more emphasized that the election will be held in time despite the international pressure.

* Dr. Dilek Yiğit is  Chief of Division at Undersecretariat of Treasury, Turkey

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the views of the Undersecretariat of Treasury.

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