With election charade, Assad bides time
By JONATHAN SPYER
Analysis: The scheduled vote is part of the strange, alternate reality that the Syrian regime seeks to create around itself.
Polling stations for the Syrian “Peoples’ Assembly” election opened at 7 a.m. on
Monday. Information Minister Dr. Adnan Mahmoud said the elections would
be held in “an atmosphere of democracy and pluralism,” according to the SANA
state news agency.
Opposition activists dispute the claim, saying that
the current polls are the latest episode in an ongoing regime campaign of
window-dressing, of fiddling while the country burns.
The scheduled vote
is part of the strange, alternate reality that the Syrian regime seeks to create
around itself and the population over which it rules.
tout the elections as the latest stage in a reform process initiated by dictator Bashar Assad in February. At that time,
with world attention focused on the crackdown of opposition forces in Homs, the
regime held a referendum on a new constitution. Assad claimed 89 percent of the
public’s support for his proposals.
But there is little new about the
The Peoples’ Assembly is not a newly created body.
Rather, it has long functioned as a tame, rubber stamp parliament for the
decrees of the regime. It is filled with carefully selected functionaries
purported to represent various sectors of Syrian society.
lacks any real power vis-a-vis the executive and the true machinery of rule in
Syria – centered on the Assad family and its security services.
around, a number of so-called different parties will contest the elections.
However, the new constitution stipulates tight restrictions that preclude the
ability of an opposition to coalesce in the legislature.
Parties may not
be formed on the basis of religious, tribal, regional, denominational or
professional loyalties and affiliations, according to the
They may also not be linked to any non-Syrian political
The Muslim Brotherhood, Kurdish separatists and groups
organized around the centers of the revolt in Homs, Hama, Dera’a and Idlib are
likely to be excluded from participating in the election.
reports stating that the February reforms permitted political activity aside
from the Ba’ath party, the Assad regime continues to govern in a coalition of
parties aligned with the Ba’ath in the so-called National Progressive Front
The coalition includes the Syrian Communist Party, the Syrian
Social Nationalist Party and a variety of other nationalist and leftist groups.
The Ba’ath is the dominant partner. The other organizations are criticized as
empty shells staffed by aging apparatchiks and regime loyalists.
changed? Opposition political forces – registering as regime-approved parties –
may stand against the NPF in the toothless Peoples’ Assembly. Eight new parties
have registered since the February reforms. They include the Syrian National
Youth Party, the National Youth Party for Justice and Development, the
Democratic Vanguard, Syria the Homeland, Syrian Democratic, Arab Democratic
Solidarity, Partisans and National Development.
In this election cycle,
the magic word “democratic” is a ubiquitous presence. In the previous
generation, Syrian straw parties labeled themselves with the words “socialist,”
“national” and “progressive.”
Those titles bore the same relation to
reality as the term “democratic” does in the current vote.
Meanwhile – as
a sort of harsh counterpoint to the elections – the real power struggle in Syria
The struggle is fought between a determined
insurgency, and military and security forces loyal to the regime.
Hama, troops clashed this week with rebel fighters of the Free Syrian Army. In
Idlib – despite a recent bloody attempt to pacify the restive northern province
by the 76th Brigade of the Syrian Army – the resistance has reemerged.
eastern Syria’s Deir al-Zor, three opposition fighters were killed by government
This is the real political battle in Syria. As with all real
politics, the issue under discussion is that of power. Either the insurgency in
Syria will succeed in overthrowing the Assad regime or the dictatorship will
defeat the opposition and continue to rule.
The regime’s sham elections
will not affect either outcome.