Syria … What Elections are They Talking about?
Syria … What Elections are They Talking about?
There are many reasons for the Syrian people’s indifference to the elections that are scheduled for July 19 to elect members of the so-called People’s Council after having been postponed twice because of the coronavirus pandemic — which the regime was forced to admit to after much delay while the extent of its spread and the number of lives it has claimed are still ambiguous until this day.
Putting aside the millions who have fled the cauldron of violence to different parts of the world and those living in areas under the control of the opposition and Turkish forces or the Syrian Democratic Forces, who are all indifferent to varying degrees, a large section of Syrians who still live under the mercy of the regime are also indifferent. Some of them are well aware of what the People’s Council is and the limits of its role in political life, and they understand that it would make no changes to the status quo, and indeed, at best would be a renewal of a tool that has always consecrated domination and justified the continuance of violence, frustration and discrimination. Others have become suspicious of everything the regime does so long as it continues to drag them from a bad to a worse situation.
What meaning would the elections have for them after they have been worn out by deteriorating living conditions and are no longer able to secure the bare minimum for their families? What need do the people have for a new People’s Council while the regime is glaringly unable to limit inflation and the unprecedented devaluation of the Syrian pound, which has left even the highest employee in state institutions unable to secure means of sustenance for this family for more than 10 days? What is the value of legislative elections while the economic situation crumbled after many industrial facilities and the majority of fertile lands have been destroyed, not to mention the absence of any chance for tourism and the scarcity of fuel, gas and clean water?
On the other hand, it is noticeable that the Syrian authorities have given much attention to these elections and want to hold them in the best way possible, whether by raising the number of candidates and publicizing them by activating the role of the Baath Party in the electoral process and providing it with a margin to select its candidates through the so-called “consultations”, or by urging citizens to take part and encourage them by promising donations and gifts.
No doubt that there are many motives behind the regime’s interest in the elections. It may be trying to send a message to the international community that displays its power and capacity to run internal affairs and renew its institutions. It may be a reaction to the Caesar Act and its ensuing pressure, or perhaps as a sign of rejection of what is being said about an international consensus to replace the Syrian president.
The regime wants to assert that it insists on staying in power and justify its rejection of any political process, negotiations or constitutional committee. It also wants to use these elections to solidify its popular ground, which is also why it has now provided aid to army casualties and has encouraged its security agencies to raise the number of candidates who belong to the families of martyrs. The regime has also pushed many figures to take part in parliamentary and political life, many of whom had either become rich during the war or had taken part in demagogic propaganda for the regime. The purpose behind this is to contain circles of influence and to alleviate the disputes raging in centers of power, whether Rami Makhlouf or what is being circulated about arrests and assassinations that have reached high officers in the army and security services.
The regime also wants to fill this council with new faces that are socially acceptable with what the regime needs today. This explains the notable increase in the number of candidates who belong to minorities. It is an attempt to secure the latter’s allegiance to the regime. The regime has also activated the participation of tribal leaders and chiefs as well those who belong to the “The Religious Youth Group” that is affiliated with the Ministry of Awqaf and representing Sunnis who can confront Islamic extremism. The regime has also encouraged people with capital and businessmen to take part in the elections and has given them a distinguished margin, considering the need for their role while living conditions and economic circumstances deteriorate.
All of this appears to take place at the expense of the representation of the so-called “National Progressive Front” whose base has started to recede and has become unable to adapt to the needs of the next stage.
It is true that the security services still have a strong role in selecting the type of candidates and in determining the results, and it is true that the elections will at least be partly rigged for pro-Russia and pro-Iran figures, however, this council will not be more than a war council and a tool for the regime to use however it likes to preserve its power and justify more killing and discrimination. A quick look at the electoral campaigns in Syrian cities, except for Sweida, which has witnessed anti-regime protests, and the slogans of around 9,000 candidates competing for 250 seats reveal this truth.
Some of these slogans include, “Together for reconstruction despite the sanctions and siege”, “Together we will defeat COVID-19 the same way we defeated terrorism and its sponsors”, “Let us unite efforts to expel the American and Turkish occupants”, and “Let us stand together in solidarity for the love of Syria”. These are the clearest new slogans that are attempting to inculcate a spirit of determination and to obscure the real reasons behind the worsening of the problems facing Syrians. Other slogans glorify the “wise leadership” and its triumph over the cosmic conspiracy, glorify the Syrian army and its loyalty and sacrifices, or glorify national unity and the depth of coexistence among Syrian sects and minorities, not to mention slogans that promise to spread jasmines across Damascus and improve living conditions by demanding higher wages and challenging monopolies and rise in prices.
What elections are they talking about? There is an existential question that is being repeated by the majority of Syrians across all allegiances and positions: Where are we and where are we heading?! There is a general sense of defeat and confusion that has overtaken them, as well as a genuine desire for salvation from what they have reached. There is also a fear that has started to unite them against living conditions that have become intolerable.