Syria's Bashar al-Assad Easily Wins Fourth Election, Second Since War and Ninth for Family

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has easily won his fourth election, the second held during a decade-long civil war and the ninth in favor of a dynasty that has led the country for over half a century.

Parliament Speaker Hammouda al-Sabbagh announced Thursday that the incumbent Assad had won 95.1% of the vote, or 13,540,860 ballots out of a total 14,239,140 cast, representing a 78.64% turnout. Sabbagh told a press conference accompanying the results that, in their voting, the Syrian people "surpassed all expectations" and "showed that they are full of determination to stand against dangerous challenges and wrote another glorious page in the history of their country," he added.

Assad, for his part, expressed gratitude to his supporters both living and dead amid a war that has killed more than half a million people.

"At the end of the electoral process and the beginning of the work phase," Assad said in a statement shared by official media outlets. "Thank you to all Syrians for their high patriotism and their remarkable participation in this national event. Mercy for the souls of our righteous martyrs, without whom Syria would not have remained, healing for our wounded and all greetings to the men of our heroic Syrian Arab Army and for the sake of all their sacrifices."

"For the future of Syria's children and youth," he added, "let us start from tomorrow the stage of working to strengthen hope to build Syria as it should be."

But the election results were likely to be met with skepticism by critics, including Syrian opposition figures and Western powers that have derided the race as a sham.

Out of 51 candidates who applied for the top position, only two others, Abdullah Salloum Abdullah and Mahmoud Ahmad Marie, were approved by the Supreme Constitutional Court of Syria.

Assad's last election occurred in 2014, when he was said to have won with 88.7 percent of the vote, a historic low for the ruling Assad family. He had reportedly secured around 97 percent in the 2007 Syrian presidential election and some 99.7 percent in a 2000 referendum on his leadership after the death of his father, former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad.

The elder Assad had scored even more impressive victory margins, including a purported 100% in 1999, a year before his death, 99.9% in 1991, 100% in 1985, 99.9% in 1978 and 99.2% in a 1971 referendum on his rule a year after taking power in a coup.

Still, major cities witnessed major showings for the Syrian leader, with state-run media broadcasting pro-Assad rallies across the likes of Aleppo, Damascus, Deir Ezzor, Al-Hasakah, Homs, Latakia, Masyaf, Al-Suwaydah and Tartous.

Syria, President, Assad, wins, fourth, election
Syrians wave national flags and carry a large portrait of their president as they celebrate in the streets of the capital Damascus, a day after an election set to give the current President Bashar al-Assad a fourth term, on May 27. LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images

The vote and the ceremonies surrounding it were held as the country continued to endure a multitude of overlapping crises including ongoing clashes among warring factions and an economic collapse exacerbated both by international sanctions and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the past 10 years since an uprising first threatened Assad's rule, the government has managed to regain control over the vast majority of the country with support from Russia and Iran, but about a third is managed by the Syrian Democratic Forces, a mostly Kurdish, U.S.-backed militia, while insurgent groups hold northern borderlands including northwestern Idlib province near Turkey, which backs the opposition.

Both rival factions, who are hostile to one another, boycotted the elections and exiled parties were unqualified to vote.

Shortly after the election results were announced, the rebel National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces issued a statement criticizing what it saw as an anticipated, undesirable result.

"The fake play presented by the regime's security services did not go beyond what was expected, as it was a mass of crumbling, decline and forgery," the statement said, "and it only contributed to clarifying and revealing more about the reality of tyranny, oppression, coercion and the state of dictatorship established in Syria for decades."

The Syrian Democratic Forces' political wing, called the Syrian Democratic Council had previously announced that it would boycott the vote and said Monday "that it is not concerned with any elections that do not achieve the goals of the Syrians in their lives, rights and political presence, and will not be a facilitator of any electoral procedure that violates the meaning of the UN Resolution 2254."

United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254, adopted unanimously in 2015, calls for a political solution and ceasefire in Syria.

Unlike rebel groups, some of whom continue to clash with both the Syrian Armed Forces and the Syrian Democratic Forces, the Syrian Democratic Forces have repeatedly entered into negotiations with the government in hopes of reaching a political settlement granting their self-governing stretches of Syria some limited form of autonomy. Such talks have so far failed, however, as the Syrian government has called on them to forsake ties with the U.S., which Damascus views as an occupying power.

An estimated 900 U.S. troops are deployed to northern and eastern parts of Syria under Syrian Democratic Forces control, as well as a desert enclave garrison in the southeast. After two separate campaigns pursued by pro-government forces and a U.S-led coalition alongside the Syrian Democratic Forces defeated the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), former President Donald Trump focused the Pentagon's mission on securing oil and gas sites in Syria.

The U.S. mission in Syria has gone on largely unchanged under his successor, President Joe Biden, whose administration also dismissed Thursday's vote as a farce.

"Today's so-called presidential elections in Syria have been denounced by the United States for the Assad regime's decision to hold an election outside the framework described in UN Security Council Resolution 2254," a senior administration official told reporters as Syrians went out to vote Wednesday.

"The elections are neither free nor fair," the official added, "and we urge the international community to reject this attempt by the Assad regime to claim legitimacy without protecting the Syrian people, without respecting its obligations under international law, including humanitarian law and human rights law, and without meaningfully participating in the U.N.-facilitated political process to end the conflict."

But Syria's allies encouraged the country to dismiss such rhetoric.

As the election took place, Syrian officials received a delegation of lawmakers and officials from Russia. One member, the Russian Civic Chamber's Sergei Muratov, emphasized the transparency through which the vote was being held and deflected the criticisms of Western powers as irrelevant, the official Syrian Arab News Agency reported.

While disputed by his detractors, Assad's victory symbolizes the staying power of a leader who the U.S. and regional partners sought to oust through support for an opposition that has grown increasingly fractured and ultraconservative in nature. In Idlib, where much of the country's fighting continues to take place, elements aligned with Al-Qaeda continue to operate.

ISIS, whose self-styled caliph died during a 2019 U.S. raid on Idlib, also continues to operate in cells across the country and remains a target for both U.S. and Russian airstrikes.

Calls have also garnered momentum among the Arab League to restore Syria's membership to the regional body after it was suspended as the country first devolved into civil war.

This a developing news story. More information will be added as it becomes available.

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