Monday May 07, 2012
Syrian Elections Marred By Continuing Violence
Despite the violence and instability rocking the country, the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad desperately wants Syrians and outside observers to believe everything is just fine. To that end, Syrian authorities held elections for parliamentary seats on Monday, an exercise widely dismissed by opposition activists as a farce. State-controlled media hailed the elections as a first step in the reforms Assad has offered as an alternative to the revolt against his government. They will elect members of a transitional parliament that will supposedly supervise the process of opening the government to all political parties. The elections mark the first time that non-Baath political forces have been able to contest elections, but this is a distinction without much difference, since the unions and parties that were certified to compete are largely co-opted by Baathists loyal to the regime. Entire cities and regions were unable, and probably unwilling, to participate in the elections.
The problems with the vote themselves obscure the larger picture: a true democratic election cannot be held in the midst of a violent crackdown on opposition forces that looks more like a civil war with each passing day. Indeed, seven more civilians were killed in shelling on Monday, belying the government’s desired narrative of a peaceful vote. The vote comes within the context of the Kofi Annan-led UN peace plan for Syria, which has been holding on by a rhetorical thread. Though the agreement required Syrian government forces to withdraw military hardware like tanks and artillery installations out of cities, this stipulation has been ignored by the government. UN observers have been limited by their reliance on the regime for transportation, allowing the Syrian military to stage-manage what the observers see. And most importantly, the killing has not stopped. Any talk of moving to the next step of the Annan plan is made hollow by the regime’s refusal to comply with even its most basic strictures.
It is increasingly clear that the US and its key partners in the region are beginning to plan for the failure of the Annan plan. Indeed, it seems clear that the Annan plan has only survived this long because the international community lacks any coherent alternative. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said Monday that the Syrian regime could not last much longer and spoke of the international community’s responsibility to halt the humanitarian crisis there. The State Department also denounced the sham elections on Monday, urging the Assad government to make an effort at real change. In the coming weeks, Washington will likely look for a new framework for pressuring Syria, and calls from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar to arm opposition fighters may increase. The government has its allies, as well. Vladimir Putin, Russia’s new and former President, was inaugurated again yesterday and is seen as a stronger supporter of Assad than his predecessor (and protégé), Dimitri Medvedev. As has been the case for months, the most likely outcome seems a continuation of Syria’s spiral into civil war. One hopes that real, legitimate elections are in Syria’s future.