Russia Defends Reelection of Bashar Al-Assad as Fair

Denounces western criticism of election in war-torn nation

A woman votes for President Bashar Assad / AP

Syria’s parliament speaker Jihad Laham announced on June 4 that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad won another seven-year term with 88.7 percent of the vote this Tuesday’s election, a result Russian officials defended as obviously just.

Western analysts, politicians, and Syrian opposition groups widely decried the election as a mockery of democracy. Frustrated with Assad’s plan to hold a vote, U.N. Arab League representative Lakhdar Brahimi stepped down on May 31.

Assad’s two opponents, Hassan al-Nouri and Maher Hajjar, were little known and state-approved figureheads used solely to give the illusion of real choice in this election.

While Syria’s constitutional court reported a 73 percent election turnout, some question this figure, as voting did not take place in large parts of Syria’s north and east controlled by the rebels fighting Assad. Syrian electoral law blocked alternative sources of information and prevented exiled opposition candidates from running against Assad.

"No credible election could be held under the conditions in Syria," said Australian Foreign Affair's Minister Julie Bishop, "While the Assad regime collects ballots from government-controlled areas, it continues to bomb civilian neighborhoods and deny millions of Syrians food and medicine."

The European Union said in a statement, "These elections are illegitimate and undermine the political efforts to find a solution to this horrific conflict." U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry described the election as a "great big zero."

However, Russia—one of Assad’s major long-time allies and supporters—considered the Syrian elections democratic and legitimate.

"We have no doubts of the legitimacy of this election," said Alexei Alexandrov, head of the Russian election observation delegation and Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Constitutional Legislation, according to Russian Kommersant.

"The U.S. goal is Syria without Assad," opined Leonid Isaev, political scientist at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, reports another major Russian publication, Argumenti i Facty.

Isaev believes that exerting its influence in Syria would enable the U.S. to control the entire Middle East. In his view, this can only be possible if Assad is eliminated.

"It will be easier to reach an agreement with other personalities," he explained, according to the paper.

Another publication, Vest.ru, observed, "Despite the fact that for the first time in half a century, elections in Syria were held on an alternative basis, Western countries have rushed to call them bogus and say that Assad in Syria has no future."

The publication noted that while the West condemns Syria’s election, it welcomed the recent presidential elections in Ukraine, "despite the overall similarity of situations against which they took place: civil war, boycott of the vote in nearby territories beyond the control of the central government, a large number of refugees."

Russia’s foreign affairs committee chairman agreed in a recent interview that elections in Syria were fair.

"The opinion of the people, expressed in the ballots, in no matter how difficult a circumstances the elections took place, are always worthy of respect, and the presidential election in Syria is much more democratic than a directive renewal of President Assad’s term, as he has no reasons to leave," said Mikhail Margelov.

Margelov also drew a parallel between the elections in Ukraine and Syria, arguing that there is no qualitative difference in the conditions in which the two presidential elections took place and noting what he saw as "double standards" that are the "daily practice and methodological credo of the Western foreign policy."

Meanwhile, only days before the Syrian election, Moscow pledged to give Assad 240 million euro in aid, which will be used on "social needs," according to Argumenti i Facty.

Violence continues in war-torn Syria since the uprising against Assad in March 2011. According to U.N. estimates, over 100,000 people died since the uprising began.