BEIRUT, Lebanon – In the midst of a civil war, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s re-election on June 3 garnered 88.7 percent of those voting, but with many regions of the country unable to vote, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry declared the election “was a great big zero.”
Calling al-Assad’s election victory a “non-election,” Kerry said that residents in many parts of the country didn’t vote since they remain under rebel control.
Al-Assad’s re-election, his third, gives him another seven years to rule Syria, even though his country is embroiled in a civil war with fighting occurring in many parts of the country, including around the Syrian capital of Damascus.
Al-Assad had two lesser-known opponents, Hassan al-Nouri and Maher Hajjar. Al-Nouri won 4.3 percent of the vote and Hajjar 3.2 percent.
The head of Syria’s Supreme Constitutional Court, Mohammad al-Laham, said that 73.42 percent of all eligible Syrians participated in the presidential election.
Kerry made his dismissive comment in a brief but unannounced visit last week to Lebanon, saying that the vote was “meaningless” and wouldn’t affect U.S. policy toward Syria.
The secretary had met with Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam to discuss ways to get all political factions to come together to choose a president. Lebanon has been without a president for almost two weeks as the various factions of Sunnis, Shia, Christians and Druze jockey for political concessions to lend their vote for a candidate who can be acceptable to all political factions.
To many Lebanese and Syrians alike whom WND has interviewed, al-Assad’s re-election in fact adds a new legitimacy to his presidency, which they see as an opportunity for him to meet with opposition leaders in areas controlled by the government to pursue reforms that then can set an example to those areas that remain occupied by the rebels.
In criticizing Kerry’s comment that al-Assad’s election was meaningless, one prominent Lebanese political source who chose to remain anonymous equated Assad’s re-election with the 1864 re-election of President Abraham Lincoln during the U.S. Civil War.
The Lebanese political source said that al-Assad’s re-election was just as legitimate as that of Lincoln’s back then and, “Kerry should go back and review his American history.”
According to historical accounts of the 1864 U.S. presidential election, some 25 states participated, while 11 Southern states – which had declared secession in 1861 from the Union, forming the Confederacy – didn’t even participate in the election. Consequently, Congress didn’t consider the electoral votes from those states.
During that election, Kansas, West Virginia and Nevada participated as new states for the first time. However, Congress also didn’t count the electoral votes of the reconstructed portions of Tennessee and Louisiana.
In those states that did participate, there was a 73.8 percent voter turnout of those eligible to vote. Ironically, that is nearly identical to al-Assad’s 73.42.
While al-Assad’s final tally was 88.7 percent of the vote, Lincoln’s was 55 percent, against his main challenger, Army Maj. Gen. George McClellan.
Sources say that al-Assad’s victory in the midst of a civil war and with only part of the country voting also may explain why Russian President Vladimir Putin just reversed course and decided to recognize the legitimacy of the election of the new Ukrainian president, chocolate billionaire Petro Poroshenko.
By showing Poroshenko’s legitimacy even while Ukraine is seeing fighting in the eastern and southern parts of the country and its strategic Crimean Peninsula recently annexed by the Russian Federation, Putin is expecting other nations similarly to look upon al-Assad’s victory as legitimate.
In Lebanon, al-Assad’s victory, which was announced by Syrian Parliament Speaker Mohammad al-Laham just after midnight, prompted almost immediate celebratory gunfire into the air in south Beirut.
Hundreds of cars, vans, SUVs and young people on motor scooters honked their horns while rolling in a parade-like fashion through the narrow streets and waving the Syrian and Hezbollah flags from their windows.
The residents of south Beirut, which is the stronghold of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, were particularly pleased with the outcome, since many families had sent their sons, fathers and brothers off to join Hezbollah fighters in Syria to fight on behalf of the al-Assad regime.
More than an estimated 900 Hezbollah “martyrs” haven’t returned, except in coffins, although their pictures are displayed prominently throughout south Beirut on the sides of buildings and telephone poles.
Fireworks permeated the air as automatic Kalashnikov gunfire continued for well over an hour. However, those rounds had to come down somewhere, so this observer sought cover until the shooting stopped.
Though parts of Syria were cut off from voting due to not being under government control, the outpouring at the Syrian embassy in Beirut virtually blocked a major highway for two days.
Voting on May 28 was supposed to be only for one day, but, due to the large numbers of people who wanted to vote, Syrian Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdul-Karim Ali announced that the embassy would be open a second day.
Even on the second day, the crowds continued to block all traffic on the main road as the Syrian voters arrived in caravans of buses, in the back of pickup trucks, cars and even on foot to line up at the embassy to vote until midnight.
Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah said even his group was surprised at the turnout. Sunnis led by former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri openly expressed anger that so many Syrians had rallied to vote in Lebanon and wondered why they didn’t return to Syria permanently.
Many work in Lebanon or are refugees from war-ravaged areas of Syria.
From the perspective of the Future bloc, which Hariri heads, they claim that “Syrian agents in Lebanon and their allies” were providing a “boring show through exploiting the influence and the weapons of Hezbollah and its aides to pressure and intimidate Syrian refugees living under difficult conditions.”
To this observer, there were no signs of anyone carrying weapons and forcing Syrians numbering well over 100,000 to flock to the embassy to vote.
F. Michael Maloof, senior staff writer for WND/ G2Bulletin, is a former security policy analyst in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He can be contacted at [email protected].