After Assad's election triumph, fear grips stay-at-home Syrians

DAMASCUS Thu Jun 5, 2014 10:31am EDT

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma cast their votes in the country's presidential elections at a polling station in Damascus June 3, 2014, in this handout released by Syria's national news agency SANA. REUTERS/SANA/Handout via Reuters

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma cast their votes in the country's presidential elections at a polling station in Damascus June 3, 2014, in this handout released by Syria's national news agency SANA.

Credit: Reuters/SANA/Handout via Reuters

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DAMASCUS (Reuters) - (The identity of the reporter has been withheld for security reasons)

Two days after Syria's presidential election, there are signs of anxiety among those who boycotted the vote - and who don't have the ink stain on their finger that would show they played their part in Bashar al-Assad's victory.

Assad won Tuesday's election with nearly 89 percent support, according to officials, triggering celebrations in some government-controlled parts of Syria where voting took place.

Authorities said 73 percent of eligible Syrians cast their votes - a remarkably high figure in a country devastated by a conflict which drove 3 million people to flee abroad - dipping their finger in permanent ink to show they had taken part.

"Let's see whose finger has no ink," the host of a local radio show said on Thursday, playing half-jokingly on fears that those who did not vote could face consequences.

On election day, some people tried to find an alternative to the official polling station ink. "Can't we use regular ink from the stationery store?" asked a young man who didn't want to vote but feared he could be arrested for boycotting the election.

"Are they going to flag down me at checkpoints and ask for my army papers?" he said, referring to his mandatory military service which he has postponed by purposely failing the final two parts of his university engineering course.

Another Damascene, who works in a health club, said he stayed at home with his wife for 48 hours to avoid punishment for not voting. "And I don’t know if I should go into work later today. What if they all have ink on their finger and they ask how come I don't?" he said.

He said that when family and friends called him on election day to ask if he had voted, he lied and said he had.

"I don't want any headache, especially not on the phone. Those who know how much I oppose Assad already know that I didn't go, and those who don’t know can keep their illusions," he said.

"I haven’t been able to do anything for the rebels, because I live here and everything is under tight control and I worry about my family. So on election day, not voting was the least I could do," he added.


Assad's international allies, including Iran, Russia and the Lebanese militant group and political movement Hezbollah, all praised the election.

"The election of Bashar al-Assad is the obituary of the conspiracy which aimed at destroying (Syria)," Mohammad Raad, leader of Hezbollah's parliamentary bloc, was quoted as saying by Hezbollah's Al Manar television.

Russia said a team of parliamentary observers from countries mostly sympathetic to Assad had found the poll fair, free and transparent, and criticized nations that denounced the vote.

The European Union said the election had been illegitimate and undermined efforts to find a solution to a civil war which has killed 160,000 people, while U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry described the vote as a "great big zero".

Yasin Aktay, head of the foreign affairs department of Turkey's ruling AK Party, said elections in Syria and Egypt - where former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi got 96.9 percent of votes in a low turnout - were both "a complete comedy".

"In Syria there was an election without ballot boxes, nobody could see where they put the ballot boxes. In Egypt there was an election without voters," Aktay said.

Many Syrians voting this week appeared to be motivated less by politics and more by a yearning for stability.

For minority Alawite, Christian and Druze communities, the Alawite president offers a defense against Islamist insurgents and the promise - however remote - of a return to stability.

The official figures also suggest that many majority Sunni Muslims turned out to vote for Assad, whether out of weariness with the conflict or fear of retribution if they did not vote.

Many of Assad's opponents also ended up voting.

"We live here, and we have to perform in this theater," said a mother of military-age sons. "If voting means we stay off the radar and no one bothers us, no one bothers my kids, then it's worth it. Besides, it's not as if my vote made a difference anyway. He was going to win no matter." she said.

"Having the ink mark matters. I feel I did the right thing," she said, showing her inked index finger.

(Additional reporting by Gulsen Solaker in Ankara and Gabriela Baczynska in Moscow; Editing by Dominic Evans and Giles Elgood)

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Comments (3)
mcanterel wrote:
… and Saddam had WMDs,
… and Gaddafi was killing his own people (which the NATO rebels are not doing of course, no!),
… and Putin is the new Hitler,
… and Nixon, …, Bush, Obama, … Clinton, etc. are Human Rights luminaries, courageous knights of freedom and liberty, humanitarian souls of the highest ethical standing. As their actions in Vietnam, Angola, Soudan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, and numerous other defenceless countries clearly shows!

In the meantime, focus on the new ogre in Syria, not on these killers of millions.

Go Reuters Go!

Jun 05, 2014 10:50am EDT  --  Report as abuse
takigi wrote:
The people of Syria (Sunni, Alawites, Christians, Druze, Kurds) are all tired of the death and destruction; especially when they know even if this was a true revolution in the beginning by few who wanted power change, it has been hijacked ( or Planned to be hijacked) very fast and it is no longer in their county’s interests. Syrians lived a good life under Baath party rule for a long time. Some Syrians wanted power change as they felt it is unfair for Baath party to rule this long. Most people in Syria and in the world want a peaceful life and it is as simple as that. Syrian’s have seen enough and know enough to know the current government is best for them now. While Syria and Syrians suffer, Turkey and Saudi’s gain. So who cares what Turkey thinks!. The corruption of the opposition is not mentioned in the western media. They inflict horrible crimes and brought major destruction by hiding in heavily populated areas. They kidnap, rape, kill, behead. Who wants that? Turkey and Saudi Arabia need to be held accountable at international courts for the death and damage they caused in Syria.

Jun 05, 2014 1:37pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
abc369 wrote:
Well said mcanterel. It is exactly that.

Jun 06, 2014 5:29am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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