Bashar al-Assad has been re-elected for a fourth term as president of war-ravaged Syria with 95.1% of the vote cast in government areas, according to official results, after a vote rejected by the opposition and the Western powers as a farce.
Wednesday’s controversial presidential vote was the second since the beginning of the Syrian uprising that turned into a decade ago, a conflict that killed hundreds of thousands of people, forced millions to flee the country and destroyed its infrastructure.
Parliament Speaker Hammouda Sabbagh announced the results at a press conference on Thursday, saying voter turnout was 78%, with more than 14 million Syrians participating.
They opposed two obscure candidates: former deputy cabinet minister Abdallah Salloum Abdallah and Mahmoud Ahmad Marei, a member of the so-called “tolerated opposition”, long dismissed by exiled opposition leaders as an extension of the government. ‘Al-Assad.
Marei got 3.3 percent of the vote, while Salloum received 1.5 percent, Sabbagh said.
On the eve of the election, the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Italy said the poll was “neither free nor fair,” and Syria’s fragmented opposition has called it a “farce.”
But there was no doubt that Al-Assad would be re-elected. In previous 2014 polls, he had garnered about 89% of the vote.
Huge election posters glorifying al-Assad had run through two-thirds of the country under his control ahead of Wednesday’s poll.
Before the election results were announced, state media said tens of thousands of Syrians gathered in several cities on Thursday to celebrate after the election committee, quoted by local television, said that “the counting process of votes have been completed in most Syrian provinces. “
Some danced and drummed drums, while others waved Syrian flags and carried images of al-Assad, state media reported.
According to SANA, “tens of thousands of people in Tartus province gathered on the city’s promenade to celebrate” Al-Assad’s long-awaited victory.
Thousands of other Syrians gathered in the coastal city of Latakia and in the Umayyad square in the capital Damascus, which along with Tartus and Latakia are government strongholds.
There were also celebrations in Aleppo and Sweida in southern Syria, where a crowd gathered in front of the town hall, state media reported.
Houwayda al-Nidal, a 52-year-old doctor, told AFP news agency that Al-Assad’s victory “carries two messages.”
The first is that of a leader who has won the war and will lead the reconstruction, he said, and “the second is meant for foreigners to show who will lead the political talks after the end of the fighting on the ground.”
But Layla, a student based in Damascus * he said At Jazeera on polling day many students were forced to vote. “Some universities will fail or even expel you if you don’t vote,” he said.
“But it doesn’t matter; we all know what the results will be because these elections are just a spectacle, ”she said, adding that none of the three candidates represented her.
The vote was boycotted by Syria’s Democratic Council, which administers an oil-rich autonomous region in the northeast, as well as in the northwestern Idlib region, where people denounced the election in large protests on Wednesday.
Elections were held on Wednesday in government areas and state media showed long queues forming outside polling stations, which remained open five hours after the scheduled closing time.
Voting took place amid the lowest levels of violence since the war broke out in 2011, but with the economy in free fall.
More than 80 percent of the population lives in poverty and the Syrian pound has fallen in value against the US dollar, causing soaring inflation.
The motto of Al-Assad’s campaign, “Hope through Work,” evoked the colossal reconstruction needed to rebuild the country, which required billions of dollars in funding.
Danny Makki, a non-resident academic at the Middle East Institute, said the economic crisis had sparked “maximum discontent” even among al-Assad’s biggest supporters.
“Although the elections have been celebratory, at least [the] post-election [period] “That’s where the real challenge lies,” he told Al Jazeera. “It’s very difficult to ask how much al-Assad can keep the economy and manage Syria’s problems, even with Russian and Iranian aid.” in reference to the president’s two main allies.
Al-Assad was elected in a referendum in 2000 after the death of his father Hafez al-Assad, who had ruled Syria for 30 years.
UN envoy Geir Pedersen noted that the polls were not held as part of the political transition provided for by Security Council Resolution 2254 which provides for free and fair elections.
“What is required is a Syria-led political solution, facilitated by the United Nations and backed by constructive international diplomacy,” he said.