A presidential election will be held on June 3rd in Syria and Bashar Al Assad is going to win. The only question is by how much. Regardless of byzantine debates about whether this vote should take place or not, the truth is that the electoral scenario in Syria could be compared, with a pinch of salt, to the scenario in Egypt. The regime is perfectly capable of rigging the results, but it won’t need to, as a sizable majority of the population is looking forward to seeing the strong man elected.
The main reason for this paradoxical mindset revolves around stability, the scarcest good in the region nowadays. Just like Sisi has promised the Egyptian people he will quell terrorism and regain economic growth, Assad is able to allege that he has the wind in his favour. These times, he may well convince his constituency by explaining how the truce in Homs, one of Syria’s largest cities, may well be the first step towards his government regaining control of the whole country.
"Assad is able to allege that he has the wind in his favour"
The next objective is clearly Aleppo, currently the rebels' largest stronghold. This is the saddest bit of the conflict: no faction will be able to declare victory if its rivals are not completely routed. Members from many communities and groups, such as Christians, Druze, Shiites, the rich merchants, public clerks, are all terrified of the prospect of Assad losing the war. They believe it would mean the coming of all kinds of acts of vengeance. The aim is thus to destroy everything and everyone on the other side of the battlefield. Or, as Assad's propagandists put it, “Assad or we burn the country.”
Assad has also managed to maintain relationships with his key allies: Iran, Hezbollah and Russia. Coincidentally all three seem stronger than ever, and are considered by many the real kingmakers in both this conflict and even from a regional perspective. Assad has also managed to convince both a huge number of Syrians and the international community that he is - as he incessantly pledged to be at the outset of the rebellion - fighting terrorism.
In spite of numerous efforts from within and from the outside, the rebel side has been hijacked by a growing number of jihadist groups - some from neighbouring countries (and even Europe). Nobody really knows anymore whether these splinter groups are waging a war against Assad or against each other, something that has led to a deep wariness in the West; the last thing countries such as the US and France want is to fund future terrorist attacks targeting their own interests. Assad is to a certain extent, the devil they know - and they know him very well - and right now he could be seen as a better option than the other side’s devils who allegedly have no qualms when killing unarmed civilians (for instance, last May 23rd a mortar strike hit a pro-Assad rally in Southern Syria killing 20).
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The bitter truth is that Assad could be considered a credible candidate, and everybody in and outside Syria know and recognize that many will vote for him. Well, not those who have been killed or fled the country, but those who are allowed to vote, i.e. those who live in areas under the regime's control. These are the people who, as I said before, often belong to communities that are terrified of the side effects of Assad's overthrow. They tend to be from Damascus and Aleppo's urban middle class, who thrived under Assad's regime and enjoyed comfortable economic growth before the uprising. It was of course an unequal growth, which benefited just identified individuals in a country riddled with corruption and clientelism.
Assad will be re-elected in 2014, the year in which another seven-year term has run its course. These elections are held not because Assad wants to reaffirm his power, nor because he believes it may be a means to put an end to the war, but because the system he and his deep state have been building for years requires them to. Moreover, as an early response to the uprisings, the regime slightly modified the Constitution in 2012, including a commitment to "political pluralism". What better way to prove this than a vote?
"Perhaps the way forward in Syria is not Geneva-style international summits"
Last but not least, Assad will win because there is no real alternative. Or is there? A fragmented opposition incapable of even showing up in the news every now and then? A Free Syrian Army whose only aim seems to be fighting the Islamists? Or perhaps Syrians ought to pick these Islamists - funded by countries who could not really be defined as democracies (aka Saudi Arabia, Qatar and UAE) - who have threatened to make Syria, and its diverse multi-ethnical and multi-sectarian social fabric, disappear to create a new Sunni Islamic state in the heart of the Arab world?
Let's not even speak about Mr Assad's presidential rivals: Maher Hajjar and Hassan Nouri, who have belonged to the regime in one way or another, preach Assad's exact same message and constantly claim they are merely presidential candidates, not in direct competition with Assad.
In the midst of a bloody civil war, with a death toll standing at 150,000, nine million people displaced, and large areas of the country still held by the rebels, many fear these elections could grant further legitimacy to Assad's regime. The bad news is that the bulk of foreign powers involved in the conflict - both from a regional and an international perspective - already consider Syria more a security and stability issue than an issue revolving on what the uprising was initially about.
Syria went from a peaceful revolution to civil war. It's maybe high time to take into account the interests of the Syrian people, not those of the regime or opposition. Perhaps the way forward in Syria is not Geneva-style international summits, but locally Homs-style brokered agreements reached by Syrians themselves.