Syria's Assad says sham reelection empowers him to defeat enemies

Syria's Assad says sham reelection empowers him to defeat enemies
After being reelected for a fourth seven-year term in a presidential vote widely dismissed as a sham, Bashar Assad said he felt empowered to defeat his enemies.
3 min read
The presidential vote has been widely described as illegitimate by the international community [AFP via Getty]

Syrian President Bashar Assad vowed to defeat his enemies no matter how many battles he faces, saying on Friday he feels empowered after being re-elected for a fourth seven-year term in a vote merely seen as rubber-stamping his rule .

Assad was elected in a predictable landslide Thursday. The presidential vote was described as illegitimate and a sham by the international community.

In a nine-minute televised speech, Assad said the public had challenged Syria's enemies, and those questioning the election's legitimacy by turning out in large numbers to vote for him, calling it a “fighting spirit.”

“People choosing me to serve for the next constitutional period is a great honor for me,” he said. “I am certain that with this fighting spirit we will be able to defeat all our enemies no mater how many the battles are or how hard the road is.”

Syria’s parliament speaker, Hammoud Sabbagh, announced the final results late Thursday, saying Assad garnered 95.1% of the vote.

He said that turnout stood at 78.6%, in an election with no independent monitors that lasted 17 hours.

Read also: Disabled, elderly Syrians 'dragged out' to vote in Assad's 'fake' presidential election

Syria observers said the official number of participants in the vote — over 14 million — appeared to exceed the number of Syrians living in government-held areas.

In a country ravaged by a 10-year-old conflict, areas controlled by rebels or Kurdish-led troops did not participate. At least 8 million people, mostly displaced, live in those areas in northwest and northeast Syria. Over 5 million refugees — mostly living in neighboring countries — have largely refrained from casting their ballots. Syria’s pre-war population stood at 23 million.

Assad’s fourth term as president comes as the country is still devastated by the conflict. Fighting has subsided but the war is not over. An economic crisis is worsening and over 80% of the population lives below the poverty line, while the local currency is in a free fall.

Assad, close associates and government officials are facing widening Western sanctions, added to already existing ones that have escalated as the war unfolded. European and US governments blame Assad and his aides for most of the war's atrocities.

For the third straight day, there were celebrations Friday in Damascus in rallies that appeared to be organised. They featured demonstrators raising Syrian flags and pictures of Assad, chanting: "God, Syria, and Bashar only." They rallied on election day, after the results, and on Friday before Assad's speech.

The election is likely to offer little change to conditions in Syria. While Assad and his allies - Russia and Iran - may be seeking a new seal of legitimacy for a president in office since 2000, his re-election is likely to deepen the rift with the West, driving him closer to Russian and Iranian backers as well as China.