2021 Syrian presidential election
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Presidential elections were held in Syria on 26 May 2021, with expatriates able to vote in some embassies abroad on 20 May. The three candidates were incumbent president Bashar al-Assad, Mahmoud Ahmad Marei and Abdullah Sallum Abdullah. The elections occurred under the authoritarian regime of al-Assad and were considered not to be free and fair.
Prior to the election, several countries and intergovernmental organisations expressed concerns about the fairness and legitimacy of the election, and stated they would not recognize the results. In what was considered by some international observers to be a foregone conclusion and by many as an "empty election" marked by fraud, the result was a landslide victory for Assad, who won over 95% of the vote.
Officials said 78.6% of voters took part, but in the context of the ongoing civil war and subsequent population displacement, this figure has been questioned. The government claimed over 18,000,000 "eligible" voters, but because ballots were only offered in areas under government control, only just over 10,000,000 were actually able to vote, while, according to the official results, Assad won over 13,000,000 votes. However, many observers and analysts noted that these numbers exceeded the possible number of adult voters in government-held areas of the country. President al-Assad was sworn-in for his fourth term (2021–2028) on 17 July 2021 at the Presidential Palace.
Bashar al-Assad, the 19th President of Syria, took power in a referendum in 2000 following the death of his father Hafez al-Assad, who had ruled Syria for 30 years. Assad also inherited the role of leader of the ruling party: the Regional Secretary of the Syrian Regional Branch of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party. He received 97.29% and 97.6% support, respectively, in the uncontested and undemocratic 2000 and 2007 elections. On 16 July 2014, Assad was sworn in for another seven-year term after another non-democratic, but this time multi-candidate, election where he received 88.7% of the vote. The election was held only in areas controlled by the Syrian government during the country's ongoing civil war and was criticised by the UN.
The 2021 election takes place as the Syrian civil war enters the eleventh year of conflict and as a result the country still remains divided among various factions. The pre-war citizen population was over 21 million. As of 2020, Syria remains the largest source country of refugees with 6.6 million refugees having fled the nation since the start of the conflict. Additionally, seven million Syrians are internally displaced, including 4.4 million in rebel-held territory, and two to four million) live in the Kurdish-ruled Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria - see Demographics of Syria - while over 100,000 citizens are detained as political prisoners. The election is held only in government-held territory. According to TRT World, 5-6 million adults live in areas under government control, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) estimates 10.9 million adults and children. According to SOHR, only five million people participated in the election, some coerced into doing so. Interior minister Mohammad Khaled al-Rahmoun said that 18 million Syrians are eligible to vote.
Analysts said the elections were held so that the government and its backer Russia could claim victory in the war, to rehabilitate the country's reputation with the Arab League, and to demonstrate that Syria is a safe country for refugees to return to.
Four hundred civil servants, judges, lawyers and journalists detained in a crackdown early in the year on social media dissent under cybercrime laws were granted an amnesty on May in advance of the election, along with thousands freed under a general amnesty for currency speculators, drug dealers, smugglers and kidnappers. Most of the freed critics were on the government side in the Civil War, and the amnesty excluded tens of thousands of Assad political detainees.
The election was also held in the context of a severe economic crisis. The government took a series of steps in the weeks before the vote to influence public opinion, including attempts to reduce inflation and to extend government grants to state employees in areas experiencing economic hardship.
The Constitution of Syria approved in 2012 states that: "Voters shall be the citizens who have completed eighteen years of age and met the conditions stipulated in the Election Law." (Article 59) The Election Law shall include the provisions that ensure: (Article 61)
- The freedom of voters to choose their representatives and the safety and integrity of the electoral procedures.
- The right of candidates to supervise the electoral process.
- Punishing those who abuse the will of the voters.
Selection of candidates
The Speaker of the People's Assembly of Syria, Hammouda Sabbagh (Ba'ath Party), announced the commencement of candidacy for Presidential elections, starting from Monday 19 April. In his speech at the first session of the second extraordinary round of the People’s Assembly, Sabbagh called on those who wish to run to submit their candidacy applications to the Supreme Constitutional Court within a period of 10 days until Wednesday 28 April.
Requirements for a presidential candidate
According to Law No. 5 of the year 2014 of the general elections code, The 5th chapter - article No. 30, the candidate for the post of President of the Syrian Arab Republic must:
- have reached the age of 40 years.
- have Syrian Arab nationality by birth.
- have all their civil and political rights and not be convicted of despicable crime.
- not be married to a foreigner.
- be resident in Syrian territories for no less than 10 consecutive years when standing for election.
- not have a nationality (citizenship) other than that of the Syrian Arab Republic.
- not to be deprived of their right to vote.
Further eligibility requirements in the Constitution include:
- The religion of the President is Islam (Article 3)
- The President cannot carry another nationality (Article 152)
The requirement for candidates to be backed by 35 members of parliament gives power to the ruling National Progressive Front, which dominates the assembly, and the requirement to have lived continuously in Syria for the past 10 years excludes opposition figures in exile.
|Poll source||Date(s) |
|Bashar al-Assad||Other candidates|
|Orb International||5–14 February 2017||1005 (A)||± 3%||34%[c]||-|
|Orb International||5–12 March 2018||1001 (A)||± 3%||40%[d]||-|
- Bashar al-Assad, incumbent president of Syria (2000–present) and Ba'ath Party candidate (Damascus)
- Mahmoud Ahmed Marei, lawyer, born 1957, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights and former secretary-general of the National Front for the Liberation of Syria. He is former President of the Youth Office at the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, member of the internal opposition delegation to the Geneva peace talks on Syria (2017). Democratic Arab Socialist Union Party (NCC) candidate (Damascus)
- Abdullah Sallum Abdullah, born 1956, former state minister for People's Assembly Affairs, former MP and Socialist Unionists Party candidate (Aleppo)
Candidates reported to have put themselves forward included:
- Jamal Suliman, actor and Syria's Tomorrow Movement candidate
- Mohamad Muafaq Sawan, leader of the Democratic Unionist Reform Party (Damascus)
- Faten Ali Nahar, 50-year old independent lawyer (Quneitra)
- Mohamad Firas Yassin Rajouh, engineer, activist, and a businessman, independent (Damascus)
- Mohamad Nadim Sha'ban, independent (Damascus)
- On 15 May, Mahmoud Ahmed Marei launched his campaign with the main goals: 1. "Together to release prisoners of conscience", 2. "Together for a participatory Government of National Unity with a real representation of the Opposition"'. At the same time, his pre-election page on Facebook and other social networks was launched. His pre-election spot was broadcast on Sama TV, Syria TV and Syrian News Channel. On 16 May, the candidate gave an hour-long interviews to Syria TV, Syrian News Channel and Sama TV. He also gave an interview to Al-Watan newspaper. According to the Daily Sabah, Marei described his campaign as modest, as it had no financial support apart from his own resources and that of internal opposition parties.
- On 15 May, the Al-Assad's campaign was launched with the slogan: "Hope is with work". His other main motto is: Together we challenge. The campaign has its pages on Facebook, Twitter, Telegram, Instagram and others. Like other campaigns, this one has its spots on Sama TV, Syria TV and the Syrian News Channel.[non-primary source needed]
- On 15 May, Abdullah Sallum Abdullah's campaign with slogans: 1. '"Our strength in our unity" 2."Strengthening the role of the NPF and reactivating the role of the parties affiliated with it", was launched with a campaign page on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. The candidate's pre-election spots were also broadcast on Sama TV, Syria TV and Syrian News Channel. He promised to combat corruption. On 17 May, he gave an interview on the Syrian News Channel in which called on all the Syrians to nationally unite to confront any problem or danger that threaten their country. He further reminded that it is necessary to enable and subsequently implement the return of all refugees back to the republic and to have suitable conditions for living in the country. Then noted the need to end the war, the occupation of the USA, Turkey and Israel. And finally he promised to protect national interests, economic development and the fight against corruption.
- On 16 May, an election campaign was launched across the country with billboards, giant posters of the president and leaflets. Large rallies in support of the president were organised by government officials, often with coerced participation, as well as dinners and dances organised by citizens to ingratiate themselves with the governing party.
Expatriate voting occurred on 20 May in countries where it was allowed. One requirement for voting is a valid Syrian passport with an exit stamp issued by an official border crossing, which excludes many who fled the war. The Embassy of Syria in Kuala Lumpur was the first embassy that started the election process.
The following countries have allowed Syrian citizens to vote:
The following eight countries did not allow expatriate voting to be held in the Syrian diplomatic missions:
In Lebanon, thousands were bussed to the embassy outside Beirut to vote. Lebanese security forces struggled to control the crowd. Many voters carried portraits of Assad and chanted pro-Assad slogans, and the embassy played pro-Assad music. There were violent attacks on Syrian voters by Lebanese people. It was estimated that 50,000 of the 1.2 million Syrians in Lebanon voted.
According to the state news agency, on 23 May, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, Faisal Mekdad, handed over the results of counting the votes of the Syrian voters residing abroad to the Minister of Justice, Ahmed Al-Sayed, and to the Supreme Judicial Committee for Elections. He described the vote as peaceful and democratic, with the exception of Lebanon, and some Western states, where some voters were prevented from participating, and stated that these results would be included in the total and published together with them.
The elections were held in the country on 26 May, from 7 am to 7 pm, later extended until 12 am. Banners of the incumbent president were hung on the 12,000 polling stations across the country.
Although the government reported that 14 million citizens voted, SOHR estimated the real number was closer to five million.
The elections were not held in the predominantly Kurdish Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, apart from ballot boxes in military zones controlled by the government in Hasakah and Qamishli, or in the opposition-held Northwest, which together make up a third of the country. Authorities in the Autonomous Administration closed the border to all vehicles except ambulances to prevent residents from travelling to government areas to vote. According to the Daily Sabah, tribes in Daraa, in Syria's south, also declared the election illegitimate, and hundreds of people there protested against the vote.
Video footage showed polling officials casting votes on citizens' behalf before handing back ID cards. A student in Damascus told Al-Jazeera that “Some universities will fail or even expel you if you don’t vote" and state employees were instructed to vote by the security apparatus. Many voters pricked their fingers to sign their support for Assad in blood. Pro-government shabiha militias controlled the process in voting centers. Ibrahim al Jibawi, opposition representative in the Constitutional Committee in Geneva, declared that there were militia members that voted more than once.
According to the state news agency, the People's Assembly voted to invite representatives of the parliaments of the following countries to monitor and supervise the electoral process: Algeria, Oman, Mauritania, Russia, Iran, Armenia, China, Venezuela, Cuba, Belarus, South Africa, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Bolivia. Observers from Belarus arrived on 23 May.
|Bashar al-Assad||Ba'ath Party||13,540,860||95.19|
|Mahmoud Ahmad Marei||Democratic Arab Socialist Union[a]||470,276||3.31|
|Abdullah Sallum Abdullah||Socialist Unionist Party||213,968||1.50|
|Source: Syrian Arab News Agency|
- The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces said that the elections are "illegal and a farce". The Syrian National Council said “The only acceptable election in Syria is the one in which the war criminal Bashar al-Assad will not participate." Hadi al-Bahra, co-chair of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, called the elections "illegal": "Currently there is no safe and neutral environment that enables all Syrians [...] to exercise their right in casting their vote." The Kurdish National Council, which is part of the Turkey-based opposition, rejected the elections. Opposition groups and tribal leaders across government-occupied Daraa called for a boycott of the vote, describing it as a poorly made farce, with poor acting, and poor direction,” and demanded the implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254 before any poll.
- The Democratic Arab Socialist Union rejected the legitimacy of the elections and distanced itself from Mahmoud Ahmad Marei, saying he had been expelled from the party in 2013.
- The Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), which controls northeastern Syria, stated “We will not be part of the presidential election process and we will not participate in it.”
- The United Nations has said that the elections are not part of the Syrian peace process and that it is not involved in it.
- France said it opposed the elections in the absence of a credible political solution: "The presidential election scheduled this year will be neither free nor legitimate. It cannot be used as a tool to circumvent this political solution."
- The United States indicated that it will not recognize the outcome of the elections unless the voting is "free, fair, supervised by the United Nations, and represents all of Syrian society." The State Department said “The proposed Syrian presidential election this year will neither be free nor fair. In this environment, we do not assess this call for elections to be credible.”
- On election day, the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States stated that they do not consider the elections free or fair. "We denounce the Assad regime's decision to hold an election outside of the framework described in United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254 and we support the voices of all Syrians, including civil society organisations and the Syrian opposition, who have condemned the electoral process as illegitimate." Assad responded by stating that Syria would disregard this statement: the “value of those opinions is zero".
- Turkey said the elections were not legitimate, emphasising that they deprive almost 7 million Syrians in the diaspora of suffrage.
- Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said that the vote would allow the Syrian people to “choose their future" and "form a government that represents them.”
- The Syrian Negotiation Commission said that the election showed "contempt to the Syrian people": "It's a decision by the government, aided by Russia and Iran, to kill the political process... It's a continuation of tyranny." The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces described the poll as a "theatrical play".
- The European Union said the elections met none of the criteria of “a genuinely democratic vote”, as internally displaced people, refugees and members of the diaspora were unable to participate in a safe and neutral environment without threat of intimidation.
- Russia said "A decisive victory was won by the incumbent head of state... We view the elections as a sovereign affair of the Syrian Arab Republic and an important step towards strengthening its internal stability."
- Belarusian president Lukashenko congratulated Assad on his victory saying that "...winning the presidential election is an evidence of recognition of the President al-Assad ‘s national role as a national leader who confidently defends his country against foreign interference, and fights for peace and stability in Syria."
- North Korean president of the State Affairs of the DPRK Kim Jong-un congratulated Assad on his victory ''through the election the Syrian government and people demonstrated at home and abroad their will to resolutely frustrate the ceaseless aggression and obstructive moves and threats by the imperialists and all sorts of other hostile forces and firmly defend the sovereignty and security of the country under the leadership of Bashar Al-Assad", with hopes of future cooperation between the two countries.
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- The Democratic Arab Socialist Union rejected the legitimacy of the elections and distanced itself from Mahmoud Ahmad Marei, saying he had been expelled from the party in 2013.
A – all adults
RV – registered voters
LV – likely voters
V – unclear
- Percentage that wanted to see Bashar al-Assad claim victory in the civil war.
- Percentage that responded "Positive" to "Do you think overall their influence on the affairs in Syria are positive or negative? - Assad"