Syria concluded its first multi-candidate presidential election in about fifty years on 3 June. The result of the election was a foregone conclusion. The incumbent president, Bashar al-Assad, has won with an announced 88.7 percent of the vote, and has secured another seven-year term for himself as Syria’s leader. However, the significance of the election does not reside in its result, nor the supposed democratic era Assad supporters think it heralds. Instead, the election is significant because it confirms how secure the regime feels about itself and its strategy for confronting the insurgency. The election is not important because the government does not control large sections of the country and was unable to set up polling booths in rebel-held localities, some of which are just a few kilometres from Damascus. According to UN estimates, nearly half of the total Syrian population is displaced, with about two to three million residing outside of Syria as refugees. Given these factors, it is clear that the requisite conditions of peace and normalcy are palpably absent for the result of these elections to be taken as indicative of the country’s mood as a whole.
Also, neither of the two candidates opposing Assad displayed anydisagreement with the regime over its manner of dealing with the insurgency. The rebellion and the civil war are the greatest challenges facing Syria. The candidates’ agreement with each other over this issue is far more significant than their disagreements over other policy issues. That there is neither a discussion nor diversity of views on how to engage with the opposition and end the war means that the regime is going to continue with its current policy of military confrontation and localized truces.
This does not necessarily mean that the regime is not interested in a political solution. Rather, the election shows that the regime wants a political solutionon terms that it finds agreeable; which, above all, and at least for now, include the continuation of Assad presidency’s. That is to say, the demands of the western and Gulf-backed opposition, the Syrian National Coalition, for a transitional government to be set up without Assad, have been decisively rejected by the regime.