Common sense on Syria’s election circus: Figures released are pure inventions

By Michael Karadjis

Assad bombs his way to election victory

In response to the claim by the Assad dictatorship that it received 95 percent of the vote in its May 26 staged “election” circus, and that the turnout was 78 percent, or 14 million people, critics have pointed to a variety of obvious issues:

And countless more valid reasons to reject the legitimacy of these “elections” under a dictatorship where every expression of dissident thought is ruthlessly crushed in a country with one of the world’s largest and most horrific torture gulags.

The regime almost certainly increased its official percentage of votes, compared to what it would have gained in an actual election, due to all this fraud, manipulation and life-and-death pressure, and only in the sense that there was no-one else to vote for in any case.

However, we do not know how much all this increased the potential vote by; it may have increased it from 30 percent to 60 percent, for example, we simply do not know. All we know are the figures invented by the Ministry of Truth of a tyrannical dictatorship.

Why would anyone believe these figures had any reality at all, even given all the above methods? The most likely way the regime “gained” 95 percent of the votes, and a 78 percent turnout of voters, was by not gaining them at all, via any methods, but by simply making these figures up. Only after having decided on the “election results” in advance did it carry out all its pressure, fraud and so on to at least make it look like voting was real, to give something for its craven international supporters and fake “observers” to cite as “evidence.”

I mean, if you were part of the “electoral” process in Syria and you disputed the figures created by the regime, would you open your mouth? Would you want to stay alive? Or even if you didn’t care, would you want your children to be “disappeared”? Anyone who actually knows anything about the regime knows this is no exaggeration.

A history of dictators getting “99-100 percent” of the vote

After all, if the 95 percent is real, but gained only due to fraud, threats, having no opposition etc, then does that mean that in every other “election” held by the Assad regime (father and son in this hereditary monarchy), the announced figures were also the real results of regime pressure and fraud, rather than inventions of the dictatorship? I mean, did Hafez Assad really get 99-100% in “elections” in 1971, 1978, 1985, 1991 and 1999? Is fraud, manipulation, fear etc that effective?

And if so, then does that mean the hyper-corrupt, blood-drenched tyrant Joseph Mobutu really got 100 percent of the vote in 1970 “elections” in Congo? And again, 99-100 percent in 1977 and 1982 elections? Yes, he was a frightfully bloody tyrant, but did his inept regime really have the ability to force 99-100 percent to vote for him, or was the figure more likely an invention? Did Saddam Hussein really get 99-100 percent of the vote in Iraqi “elections” in 1995 and 2002 due to fear, fraud etc? Did Hosni Mubarak really get 96 percent in 1993 and almost 94 percent of the vote in Egypt in 1999 elections? And of course Ferdinand Marcos really got 89 percent in the Philippines in 1977, and 78 percent really approved Augusto Pinochet’s policies in Chile in 1978? Did 100 percent of North Koreans really go out and vote for Kim Jong-un in 2014 (and of course Kim the father and Kim the grandfather before him in that hereditary monarchy)? Well, perhaps that regime does have the totalitarian efficiency to carry it out.

Isn’t more likely that the consistency of figures around 94-100% (except in a couple of cases when dictators chose lower but still overwhelming figures to try to be more convincing) indicates that these figures are pure inventions, where there is no-one to check (at least, who wants to live)?

How many “voted” in Syria? 14 million or 4 million?

What of the alleged voter turnout of 78 percent? This invention can in fact be disproved with empirical facts. The regime claims this 78 percent voting amounted to 14.24 million Syrians. This is absurd because:

  • This would indicate a Syrian voting population of some 18 million. However, the current total population inside Syria is estimated to be around 18 million people, and some 40-45 percent are under 18, ie, non-voters.
  • Of the pre-war population of some 24 million people, there are now 6.6 million refugees living abroad; that’s why only some three-quarters of this figure now live in Syria.
  • Of these 18 million living in Syria, there were over 5 million living in the northwest under Turkish and/or rebel control as of 2018, including 1.7 million refugees from elsewhere in Syria, but since subsequent regime and Russian offensives pushed the number of refugees up from 1.7 to 2.7 million, or perhaps even a million more than that, the real numbers in the northwest may be much higher; and another 3 million are living in the northeast under the control of the US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, including 700,000 refugees. Voting did not take place in either region, and no-one seriously believes that anyone living in these two regions wants anything to do with the regime.
  • Therefore, the absolute maximum number of people – adults and children – living in regime-controlled parts of Syria is 8.5 million, and is likely considerably less.

In response, some regime apologists claim that refugees voted from abroad. If so, then their claim of a voting population of 18 million (out of a total Syrian population, in Syria and abroad, of over 24 million), might make some sense. Even if still inaccurate, given the considerably higher proportion of under-18’s in the population; and even though the regime clearly does not mean this, because it considers most Syrians in refuge ineligible to vote; let’s go with this for argument’s sake.

Some refugees did vote, to be sure. However, if we are to leave out the populations in Syria outside regime control where no voting took place, and add the population under regime control (8.5 million maximum) and in refuge abroad (6.6 million), the total figure, adults and children, comes to some 15 million people, just slightly higher than the alleged voter turnout! Therefore, for this to be true, it would mean not only that virtually every child, from 0-18 years of age, voted in the election inside regime-controlled Syria, but that virtually every one of the 6.6 million Syrians abroad, who fled Assad’s tyranny, also voted (again, from the age of 0 and up)!

While the first criterion is obvious nonsense, how likely is the second, that almost every refugee voted in the “election” circus, and for Assad?

First, there certainly were various pressures applied to refugees to vote (including legitimate concern that the regime would never return their property if they did not vote), and therefore it is likely that more “voted” than really wanted to. However, what is the evidence of the success of this campaign?

This does not leave many “voters” among Syrian refugees in the three largest – by far – host countries.

As for Europe, the country with by far the largest number of Syrian refugees, Germany, also banned the “elections.” Again, while this may have violated the rights of some, the likelihood that this would have made much difference is small – refugees in Europe are overwhelmingly anti-Assad and largely refuse to go home precisely due to his presence in power. Nevertheless, some Syrian refugees in Germany staged this terrific mock election to protest the farce.

And in any case, despite claiming all these votes from abroad and applying pressure to vote, the dictatorship itself makes it almost impossible for most refugees to vote even if they wanted to – registering to vote requires a valid Syrian passport with an exit stamp issued by an official border crossing that show you left the country “legally”!

From all this, it is difficult to work out how many refugees voted – none in Turkey, where the majority of refugees live, a figure ranging between 50,000 and a few hundred thousand perhaps in Lebanon and Jordan combined, none in Germany, and any that voted elsewhere would be among relatively tiny populations of Syrians.

For argument’s sake, let’s be very generous and say 500,000 Syrians abroad voted. Now, of the maximum figure of 8.5 million Syrians living in regime-controlled Syria, let’s first leave out some 40-45 percent who are under 18, and we get a maximum voting population of 5 million. Now let’s take the regime’s word for it that 78% voted (I don’t know why we should, but I guess it is possible with all the methods described above) – that comes to nearly 4 million voters. Add a very generous half million from abroad, and we find that Bashar Assad was “elected” in an “election” involving a mere 4.5 million voters, where the only alternatives were Assad Clone 1 and Assad Clone 2.

Therefore, if the figure the regime cited for the number of voters can empirically be shown to be pure fiction, then obviously the same can be just as true for the numbers who “voted” for Assad.

However, one objection may be that if the regime only has to invent figures, then why go to all the trouble to organise fraud, manipulation, pressure etc? As stated above, impressions count. Trying to make it look like the invented figures could have some truth can be good propaganda – just look at the clownish “journalists” from Gray (Red-Brown) Zone gushing over the Syrian “elections”.

It is also important for internal consumption. Tsurkov sums it up well: “In an authoritarian regime like Syria’s, when the falsification of the results takes place out in the open, elections project the regime’s ability to compel compliance. Elections serve the interests of the regime, signaling to opponents that resistance is futile, encouraging its loyalists and creating a sense that the regime enjoys greater support than it actually does.” Or, as Kristin Helberg writing in Qantara puts it, “the election serves a dual purpose: it forces people to demonstrate loyalty at home and provides legitimacy abroad.”

“Elections” under a dictatorship? Why is this article even necessary?

Wonder who’s going to win?

None of the above discussion should really be necessary. For decades, dictatorships (often, though not always, backed and armed by the US government and military) carried out “election” circuses and declared unbelievable figures for their “victories”, but left and progressive activists in the West denounced such “elections” as fraudulent. It was – and is – elementary common sense that “elections” under a violent dictatorship will not be “free and fair.” To anyone who understands elementary logic, no further explanation is necessary. 

It is a sign of strange times therefore that I even need to be writing this. Because a great range of political activists in the West today from the mechanical and superficial “anti-imperialist” school of thought are praising these “elections” being carried out by the world’s most violent dictatorship, one that has bombed every city in its country to rubble and which holds tens of thousands in horrific torture chambers. For example, this statement by “leftist” western observers that gloriously proclaims the legitimacy and democratic nature of Assad’s election victory. It is true, of course, that every section of the global far-right also praises Assad and his “elections” of course, but it is strange days when a section of the left finds itself in the same boat.

Strange days indeed, when for many being a “leftist” means to shill for a bloody dictatorship that protects a narrow capitalist oligarchy that owns the proceeds of its neo-liberalisation of the Syrian economy in the early twenty-first century; a regime that tortured Islamist “terror” suspects for the US “war on terror;” a dictatorship that Israel’s Netanyahu and other top leaders of the Israeli right see as optimal for Israel’s interests. A misnamed “anti-imperialism” devoid of substance. Yet one might expect even they would prefer to keep their mouths shut rather than engage in public self-humiliation. Not in 2021, it seems.

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