A Syrian foreign ministry official rejected Wednesday the U.S. State Department's criticism of the vote that won President Bashar Assad a second term, saying United States should solve its own problems in Iraq first.
In the Sunday referendum in which he was the only contestant, Assad secured another seven years in office, getting 97.62 percent of the votes. The U.S. State Department denounced the vote in unusually blunt terms, sarcastically noting Assad's "ability to have defeated exactly zero other candidates."
"Clearly there was no real choice here for the Syrian people," said State Department spokesman Tom Casey. "You know, your choice is between vanilla, vanilla and vanilla and I don't think that's one that offers a variety of flavors and identities for the Syrian people to choose from."
The state SANA news agency quoted an unnamed foreign ministry official as saying that Syria's "advice" to the United States is "to stop interfering in the affairs of others and try solve the problems they brought to their country, such as the wrong war in Iraq."
The Syrian official also wondered whether the "democracy that they (U.S.) accept is only the one in which the results are in the interest of those they support."
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%)
President's victory celebrated before a ballot is cast, but dissent is met with imprisonment and intimidation Ian Black in Damascus Tuesday May 29, 2007 The Guardian
High above the teeming streets of Damascus, from giant hoardings, posters and balloons, Bashar al-Assad gazed benignly down on his people - determined, proud, statesmanlike and reassuring - the carefully crafted image of a man fit to carry on leading Syria for another seven years. Banners praised "our Bashar", defender of sovereignty and stability. "We love you," declared another slogan, printed over a thumbprint in the national colours. Nightly street parties, concerts, dabke dancing and rallies created a festive, jubilee-like atmosphere in the run-up to yesterday's presidential referendum.
No one was surprised that celebrations were taking place before a single ballot was cast; President Assad was, after all, the only candidate nominated by the ruling Ba'ath party. There is no legal opposition. Tellingly, the event is described in Arabic as "renewing the pledge of allegiance" as if this young, British-educated ophthalmologist and computer buff were a mediaeval Caliph. "We have our own style of democracy and we are proud of it," the information minister, Mohsen Bilal, told the Guardian. "Our hearts are beating for Syria and for Syria's leader," read a text message sent to customers by a leading mobile phone company.
In 2000, when President Assad created a republican dynasty by succeeding his formidable father, Hafez, the referendum produced a comfortable 97.3% vote in favour. The official result this time is unlikely to stray far from that, though accurate turnout figures would provide a better guide to the real mood of this country.
Voting is a "national duty". "You can have problems if you don't," said a driver from Latakia. Public-sector employees and members of the armed forces were out in strength at the celebrations and marches. "Of course I'm voting," grinned a middle-aged man on his way to referendum centre 542 in the old Ottoman Hejaz railway station. "Dr Bashar is our president!"
President Assad does seem genuinely popular, especially with younger people, though there is no opinion polling. Fear of the Mukhabarat secret police is pervasive. Jokes abound about the man who once dared to tick the no box and was dragged back by his terrified mother to beg to be allowed to vote again. "Don't worry," the officials reply. "We've changed it for you - but just this once."
Protestors call for a popular boycott of the presidential referendum in the country
Syrian Elector, Washington, DC (May 26, 2007)
Close to 75 protestors representing various opposition currents held a protest rally in front of the Syria Embassy in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, May 26. Protestors called for a popular boycott of the presidential referendum scheduled to be held on the following day.
The protest rally lasted for three hours, and was covered by a number of media agencies including al-Hurra TV, and al-Mustaqbal newspaper.
The rally in Washington came close on the heels of a similar demonstration in New Zealand and a number of European capitals, and is part of a large campaign mounted by opposition groups inside and outside Syria calling for a boycott of the presidential referendum in protest of the growing authoritarian tendencies of the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad whose first term in office was characterized by rancid corruption, crackdowns on basic freedoms, support of Islamist groups, and growing dabbling in Lebanon and Iraq.
It has become clear to us all over the last period that our beloved country is indeed in grave danger, and that we as a people and as individual human beings are in danger, on account of the corrupt, authoritarian and greedy policies and practices of the Assad regime. Regardless of how this danger is manifested, whether through renewed international isolation, a new war, a new crackdown on our basic freedoms, or some combination of all that, we should admit now, at least to ourselves, that the greater burden of guilt here falls squarely on the shoulders of the regime, and that we cannot continue to blame others for what continues to befall us.
For this reason, it is now up to us to act to save ourselves and our homeland from the deadly grips of this decrepit regime. For as long as we allow ourselves to remain hostages to its whims so it can use us in its attempts at blackmailing others, while simultaneously blackmailing us as well, it won't be long before the entire system comes tumbling on our heads. For wood cannot coexist with termites for long.
For this reason, we chose to call for boycotting the presidential referendum on May 27, for only in this way can the Syrian people refuse to take part in the ongoing conspiracy against their freedom, and will they be able to find ways to reach out to each other again.
By staying at home on May 27th, people will give themselves the chance to see that their neighbors and relatives are doing the same, that many of them have indeed chosen to stay at home, seeing that with their own eyes will make them realize that they are not alone and that they are, in fact, surrounded by people that they can trust, people who share their disgust and apprehension with regard to the status quo and who are willing to do something about it, people who want to bring back hope into our lives and who are willing to take the necessary risks in this regard, because there is no other way now. There is simply nothing left to lose. This is not just about our national dignity and honor. This is about our continued existence as a people.
In this way, the Syrian people will cease back control over their lives and destinies, regardless of the wishes and calculations of both the regime and the opposition. For in this way, the Syrian people will be empowered to generate their own civil and political currents and movements that will correspond more closely with their true wishes and aspirations.
No, this will not all happen overnight, but it could begin in the pan of a single day, a particular day when the Syrian people choose to stay at home in the face of their fears and all acts of blackmail and intimidation to which they are subjected.
Indeed, let's all work together to make May 27th a day to remember, a day that we can all be proud of.
In its relapse unto old-styles of intimidation and blackmail as part of its ongoing campaign to mass popular support for its anointed leader, the Syrian regime is doing wonderful job at discrediting itself and garnering popular sympathy for the opposition, if not as specific groups and figures, than for the notion as such. For the people have simply had enough with the practices and hypocrisy of the ruling regime. Their main concern over the last seven years, and the reason for which they had put up with the macabre transfer of power from father to son in a republican system to begin with, was their desire to see the country move forward in time, bypassing and correcting the mistakes of the past, and building a more promising future.
Instead, Bashar & Gang are busy turning the clock back and are actively engaged in reintroducing old styles of leadership and governance and old practices of repression and corruption, at the expense of the public good, and of contrary to popular wishes and interests.
This trend clearly does not augur for the future, and the Syrian people will not stand for it. Sooner or later the barrier of fear will come down, and it is our only hope at the Syrian Elector that it comes down before the House of Assads itself does, on our heads, seeing that all houses infested with termites are bound to fall, eventually.
It is for this reason that we chose to call for boycotting the referendum on May 27th. By doing so, the Syrian people are not simply refusing to take part in the ongoing conspiracy against their freedom, but they are also reaching out to each other.
By staying home, each citizen is giving him/herself a chance to see who shares his disgust with the situation and is willing to do something about it. When someone sees how his/her neighbors, and family members have adopted the same position, he/she would realize that they are not alone, and that there are people close by with whom he can work and network. This will mark the true beginning of civic action in the country – people will learn to work with each other again, and to work around their differences, to strike compromises and agree on new arrangements to arbitrate their differences. New and truly popular leaders will emerge, and with them new leadership styles will be introduced. The people will be back in the driver seat again, and they will no longer wait for either the regime or the opposition to work out their impossible miracles. The people will take charge of their lives and destinies again, just as they had done not too long ago when they strove for national independence. This is how democracies are born.
No, this will not happen overnight. But, this could start in the course of a day, when on a particular day, enough of Syria’s citizenry elect to stay at home, in the face of their fears, and all acts of blackmail and intimidation.
Friends of Syria - and I count myself among them - have been puzzled and saddened by the lengthy jail sentences passed on Syrian political prisoners, human rights activists and prisoners of conscience. These harsh punishments have attracted world-wide attention and do your country's reputation great harm. With the greatest respect, I urge you to review these cases and to grant an early amnesty to the prisoners.
Anwar Al Bunni is Syria 's leading defender of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. In March 2006, with funding and encouragement from the European Union, he created a Syrian human rights centre. Your security services closed it down almost immediately.
On May 17, 2006, Al Bunni was arrested and detained with common criminals at 'Adra prison near Damascus where, according to Amnesty International, he suffered beatings and degrading treatment.
I understand that he has written to you drawing your attention to the fact that some 6,000 prisoners in 'Adra are routinely subjected to beatings, insults and terror and prevented from leaving their cells, watching TV or listening to the radio.
He has asked you to investigate prison conditions. I very much hope you will respond positively to this request. I feel sure that you are aware that he is a prisoner of conscience detained solely for the expression of non-violent ideas.
On April 24, he was sentenced by the Damascus Criminal Court to five years' imprisonment on the charge of "spreading false information harmful to the state" (Article 286 of the Penal Code.)
Foreign diplomats present in court were disturbed by this harsh sentence and considered the trial unfair. Such political trials before Syria's criminal, military and state security courts have come under severe international criticism for the blatant influence of the security services on the proceedings.
I would suggest that prisoners such as Al Bunni, a respected lawyer, are more damaging to you inside prison than at liberty.
According to Amnesty International, his "crime" was to have raised the case of the death in custody of 26-year-old Mohammad Shaher Haysa, as a result of inhumane treatment, possibly amounting to torture.
Pursuant to Syrian Elector’s call for a boycott of Syria’s presidential referendum on May 27, key opposition figures and movements have reiterated this call and issues statements critical of the Assad regime, while Human Rights Watch have called for the release of political prisoners and members of the U.S. Government have taken tougher stand on Syria.
Former Vice Presdient Abdel Halim Khaddam called Bashar al-Assad the head of a “mafia which has impoverished the country,” in an interview with Lebanon’s Future TV channel, according the Middle East Times.
From Paris, where he is based, Khaddam called for “democratic change” and accused Assad of “plant[ing] fear and increase[ing] poverty and backwardness [in Syria].”
“What can we expect from a repressive and corrupt regime which denies civil liberties?” he asked.
In an interview from his home in Tel, North of Damascus, Syrian dissident Riad al-Turk urged Assad to embrace democracy and warned that a political “earthquake” could soon shake the president from power, according to Reuters.
Syrian Baath member and legal scholar Abdallah al-Khalil Bin Muhammad has been trying to nominate himself for the presidency of the country for months now. He bases his candidacy on the legal framework established by the Baath constitution itself. But his constitutional arguments and his calls for the adoption of a multi-candidate electoral system for the country's highest office continued to fall on deaf ears. Mr. Muhammad was eventually surprised when he found out that his Baath colleagues stuck to the existing system of holding a referendum and nominated only Bashar al-Assad for the position of the presidency. For this reason, Mr. Muhammad submitted his request to nominate himself to the position through the media, addressed to both the people's assembly (the parliament) and the office of the presidency, in the hope that his request will be noted now.
People can now vote for Mr. Muhammad, and say no to Bashar al-Assad on the recently launched site (99%?).