“Do you think Bashar al-Assad decided to hold presidential elections in Syria so he can exit from the crisis and cede power in a legitimate manner?"
This is what an optimist, or what we call a dreamer, asked me amidst all this chaos!
Those who know Bashar al-Assad’s history are not surprised of his past actions and will not be convinced by any future promises. The man plans to stay Syria's president against everyone's will and regardless of the means he will have to adopt from killing people using explosive barrels to playing the electoral ballots game.
So why is he bothering to hold the elections and make people choose a president after he refused their wish for him stand down from his position? Why is he punishing them by destroying the country over their heads while making them vote?
It's because he thinks holding the elections buys him more time, distracts the West and sends a clear message that he's staying in power for many more years. He could have postponed the elections for a year or two under the excuse of war and thus continued to be president.
He's aware that people mock the elections as a charade and that it will provoke the Western countries amid their efforts to broker peace.
A history of brutality, fake democracy
Assad is an expert at engineering elections. He's previously forged them for parliament and his party - just like his dad did. It's certain the elections will be "honest" - meaning all votes will go to him because voters will not dare vote for anyone other than him.
Assad is holding elections because he thinks holding the elections buys him more time, distracts the West and sends a clear message that he's staying in power for many more years.Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Assad is a man who killed tens of thousands without distinguishing among them or knowing their identities because they dared reject him. It's easy for such a man to kill those who don’t vote for him when he has their name and address!
Two years ago, this time, he resorted to using tricks for the parliamentary elections.In May 2012, 12,000 polling stations opened at the same time he sent his forces to launch fierce battles in north -west Syria.
He also ordered the use of invisible ink to further guarantee integrity. What's the value of integrity and secrecy when elections are imposed? It was said that 5 million out of 10 million eligible voters participated in the elections. This is impossible!
And of course, Assad's party won the same number of parliamentarian seats it previously had - minus one seat! This is the maximum level of integrity and democracy he allows.
Truth is, true democracy is not a problem just in Syria and Assad is not the only president preventing democracy as the entire region is a barren desert when it comes to it. The Syrians have faced this issue ever since Hafez al-Assad was president, with his brutality even worse than the practices of eastern Europe regimes.
Syria, during Hafez and Bashar's eras, has been a country of detentions and repugnant governance with a terrifying security regime. It's normal for people to revolt regardless of whether the regime claims democracy or not.
Libya, and under Muammar Qaddafi's rule, lived in a state of terror and suppression to an extent where people took up arms to confront him and took the risk of heading towards an unknown future.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on April 24, 2014.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.