Postponing elections in Syria does not mean much to apathetic voters

The leadership said it feared the spread of the virus in large rallies during the fiercely competitive elections.
Sunday 22/03/2020
Syrians cast their votes at a polling station during municipal elections, in Damascus, Syria, Sunday, Sept 16, 2018.
Low priority. Syrians cast their votes at a polling station during municipal elections, in Damascus, Syria, Sunday, Sept 16, 2018.

The Syrian “leadership” does not recognise the existence of the coronavirus epidemic in the country but is taking steps to prevent it from spreading. Among prominent measures was postponing legislative elections. The leadership said it feared the spread of the virus in large rallies during the fiercely competitive elections, which Syrians are entitled to every four years.

There is no doubt that this measure would be the least important one in the government’s plan, if there is any, to deal with the pandemic. There is no plan other than to deny the existence of this disease in Syria, in line with the many statements about the exceptional divine protection for the country out of all the countries of the Middle East and especially Iran, which exported the virus to all its vassal states, except for Syria.

The shallowness of the measure is highlighted by two basic observations. The first is that the People's Council of Syria elections are more like a recruitment process conducted through a government-run competition, rather than an election per se. The second is that all forms of elections in the era of the Assad family have become the last concern of Syrians. It concerns them only to the extent that the regime forces them to participate in it.

Thus, if the president had appointed the members of the People's Council directly without going through the election comedy or if security services do not compel people to go to polling stations and participate in this charade, the elections would have taken place at their appointed time without registering a single case of infection by this frightening plague.

The only real motivation behind Syrian President Bashar Assad's decision to postpone parliamentary elections is to maintain the tradition of the Syrians’ reluctance to participate in this civic right since his father assumed power in the early 1970s.

At that time, Hafez Assad had concentrated all powers in his own hands and was running the executive, judiciary and parliament by martial law, which froze the country's constitution until about a decade ago when it took a new form called an anti-terrorism law.

Bashar Assad inherited his father’s totalitarian control of everything in the state. For five decades in which the Assad family ruled the country, the People’s Council turned into a security establishment exercising public simulation. Its members stand in front of television cameras reciting eulogies and praise to the glorious leadership of the president. When they are ordered to vote on bills and decisions, they rush to cast votes that represent only them because, outside parliament walls, they would be representing only those who bribe them.

Since the beginning of the crisis in 2011, there have been two turns of “elections” of the People's Council of Syria. This third turn, which has been postponed because of the coronavirus outbreak, would not have been different from the previous two, except perhaps we would be entitled to a change in the figures who would take the stage and applaud the “heroic” president when Assad starts talking about his victories over the global conspiracy that caused the displacement of half of the Syrian population and killed about nearly half a million.

The Syrian parliament to be birthed by the “elections” in May, if they are not postponed again by Assad, of course, is going to be the 12th edition of the parliament of what they call the second republic in Syria.

The first parliament of the second republic appeared in 1973 and lacked authority. The first “elections” took place at the time of Hafez Assad, who put in a parliament befitting the new constitution, which he, of course, drafted to suit himself perfectly.

In 2000, the ninth edition of parliament amended the laws and the constitution in just one night so Bashar Assad would become president. All members of that parliament were forced to approve the amendments, just as the Syrians have been forced to elect Bashar Assad as president again and again.

After the March 8 revolution and with the Assad clan closing in on power in Syria, the People’s Council of Syria has not seen a single democratic election. Before that fateful date, it had experienced several, the first of which was in 1943. Since that date, the country has had more than 25 presidents. Two of those presidents -- Hafez Assad and his son Bashar -- have ruled Syria for 50 years, during which they played with 11 parliaments.

Those looking forward to this new parliament in two months do so for purely personal reasons. As for those who are waiting for a parliament that would bring a democratic government and an elected president, they will have to go on waiting for them in vain, perhaps for another five decades.

Whether at home or abroad, the coronavirus pandemic is not going to lengthen their wait because the epidemic that stands between them and democratic elections that produce such a parliament is protected by some countries and those countries are not going to fight it as they are fighting the real coronavirus.