Syrian Elector, Washington, D.C. (May 30, 2007)
The Syrian presidential referendum took place in the absence of any approved independent monitors of any kind, domestic, regional and international. Except for voters and security officers no one was allowed access to the polling centers. This seems to be one of the main lessons learned from the legislative elections, where local journalists were granted access, which allowed for our unofficial monitors to gain access to the centers and expose the regime’s various fraudulent practices.
While the size of our team and tight control imposed by the Syrian security apparatuses did not allow us to make any real estimates of the actual size of turnout for the presidential referendum, we are surely in a good position to challenge the figures stated by Syrian officials as well as the entire legality and constitutionality of the process itself, seeing that our team has managed to report many infringements, infractions, and abuses of the system.
But before listing our reason for doubting the veracity of the figures above, let’s list the main abuses that were noted.
All voters interviewed by our team members stated that the balloting was open, no private booths were provided, and as such secret balloting was not practiced, and all voting took place in the open under the watchful eyes of the security agents, which were omnipresent.
Many reported that ballots have already been filled on their behalf, that is, the “yes” circle had already been marked for them, and all that they had to do was to fold it and insert it in the box.
Many reported that they were not asked for their electoral cards in order to be allowed to vote, despite earlier report that having such cards will be a requirement so people can prove that they have taken part in the vote and avoid any future harassment or punishment.
Many reported that they were not even asked for their ID cards, and simply proceeded to stuff the box with their ballots, which was often already marked as we have noted.
Many reported, and our monitors actually observed (some of them indeed took part in the vote in order to monitor what is taken place inside), numerous incidents were multiple voting took place, not simply by going from one center to another, but often in the selfsame center through the use of the different identification documents that a personmay have (inclduing IDs, electoral cards, passports, bills, driver licenses, etc.) with encouragement from security officers present on the scene.
Many reported, and our monitors witnessed, numerous incidents where children were allowed, in fact, encouraged, to vote.
Many underage high-school students reported having been encouraged/coerced to vote by their teachers and principals.
Many of our monitors reported witnessing voters using IDs belonging to deceased relatives to fill out more ballots with the encouragement of the security personnel present on the scene.
Public sector workers reported that they often had no choice but to take part in voting “yes,” since the entire establishment in which they worked was obliged to vote en masse, and of course, in the open. Refusal to participate would have had severe repercussions for the people involved.
University students were reportedly coerced to vote by being told that failure to do so will result in them not being allowed to take their final exams for the year.
The licenses of taxi and microbus drivers, street vendors, and kiosk-owners were reportedly confiscated in the days preceding the elections to convince them to take part in the official celebrations, and to actually show up at the polling stations. It should be noted in this regard as well that taxi and microbus drivers were reportedly fined 1,500 SYP for failing to put a picture of the president in the window shield, and shop-owners were fined 3,000 SYP for the same “offense.”
Army recruits had to deliver their IDs and electoral cards to the officers in charge who proceeded to vote on their behalf. They were numerous instances as well when army officers were forced to vote with their blood, that is, to mark the “yes” circle with their own blood.
Reports from many centers indicate that people were allowed to vote on behalf of others, family members, tribesmen, coworkers, etc. by bringing the electoral cards or IDs of these people.
Reports from Palestinian and Iraqi refugees indicate that many were coaxed/coerced into voting, despite the fact they are not Syrian citizens and, as such, legally not eligible to vote.
Many denaturalized Kurds from around the country reported having been coerced into voting, despite the fact that they are deprived of their citizenship.
Main reasons for doubting the veracity of official figures, even if the above abuses were not recorded:
Despite mass turnout at certain main centers in the main cities, especially those where radio and TV coverage took place, our local monitors, even in such major cities as Damascus and Aleppo, reported ordinary to below average turnout. To quote one: “a quick examination of the various polling stations scattered all over Damascus suggest that the turnout for the presidential referendum was very ordinary, even shy, if we compared it to the electoral ‘campaign’ that began more than ten days earlier.”
Ordinary to below average turnout was also reported in areas north of Aleppo, and in many Aleppo suburbs.
But the area with lowest turnout was probably al-Hassakeh province where bad weather conditions, namely a sandstorm, gave many people a good excuse not to show up for voting. The improvement in weather conditions in the afternoon facilitated the efforts of armed security patrols to lure/intimidate voters to show up at the local stations. Still, the overall turnout is believed to have been the poorest in the country, with the probably exception of the Kurd-dominated Qamishly, which continues to boycott en mass all public events sponsored by the central authorities.
In many conservative neighborhoods, towns and villages throughout Syria, housewives were not allowed to go out to vote. The husbands that our monitors interviewed, especially in the cities of Homs and Hama, said that they did not vote on behalf of their wives. This is not exactly a negligible percentage. Even a mediocre estimate in this regard will challenge official figures of 95.86% turnout.
But the main point of concern in this regard is the major confusion with regard to the issue of voter registration. For the legislative elections, Syrian officials asserted that registered voters were around 7.6 million and that only they were allowed to vote. In the runner up to the presidential referendum all reports in the media stressed the need for voters to bring their electoral cards with them so that they could demonstrate later on that they have indeed taken part in the vote (as the cards will be stamped upon voting). This constitutes a de facto exclusion of all 4 million unregistered voters. True, people were encouraged to register for a card, yet no major drive for registration seems to have taken place, and no sign of a popular response in this regard has been reported, in the interim between the legislative elections on April 22-23 and the Presidential referendum on May 27, despite our continuous monitoring of the centers where such cards are issued (a far less daunting and reasonable task than monitoring all 12,000 polling stations). So, how come official figures show participation of over 11.4 million voters? Indeed, it is established that electoral cards, or any cards at all for that matter, were eventually not required for voting, as the process quickly descended into a chaotic manifestation of intimidation, sycophancy, manipulation and control, and people were encouraged to vote using any identification document that they produce, inclduing old bills (people also reported and were observed being dragged from the street to vote, even if they said that they had no electoral cards, or IDs of any kind, or that they had already voted). But this seems to have been a last minute development. The 4 million unregistered voters, assuming they wanted to vote to begin with, had no way of knowing that, at least not on a large enough scale to account for the final tallies provided by the authorities. This throws much doubt on the authenticity of official figures, and, taken in collusion with all of the above abuses, on the legitimacy of the entire process. The international community should join the Syrian opposition groups and dissidents in rejecting the results of the presidential referendum. Indeed, we all have every reason to contest the results of the referendum, and deny the legitimacy of the process.
The Syrian Elector Team
Figures provided by the Minister of Interior, Bassam Abd al-Majid:
Number of Electors: 11,967,611.
Number of those who actually voted: 11,472,157 (over 95.8% turnout)
Number of Yes votes: 11,199,445 (97.62%)
Number of “No” votes: 19,653 (1.071%)
Number of invalid ballots: 253,059 (2.21%)