DAMASCUS: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has won a new seven-year term with nearly 90 percent of a vote in a poll branded “illegitimate” by the opposition and a “non-election” by the United States.
Tens of thousands took to the streets in government-held areas of Syria even before the results were announced Wednesday evening, waving portraits of Assad and the official Syrian flag.
As celebratory gunfire erupted in the capital and loyalist areas across Syria, at least 10 people were killed as the bullets fell back to earth, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Tuesday’s election was held only in government-controlled areas.
In the roughly 60 percent of the country controlled by rebels, activists reacted with the Arab Spring slogan that has been the rallying cry of their uprising — “The people want the fall of the regime.”
Pro-government newspapers all carried front-page photographs of the re-elected president. Images of Assad in suit and tie, or military uniform, filled the programming of state television.
A source close to the regime told AFP Assad will be sworn in for a third term on July 17, addressing parliament and laying out his new policies.
The main opposition National Coalition called the vote illegitimate and pledged that “the people are continuing in their revolution until its goals of freedom, justice and democracy are reached.”
The exiled coalition also asked for “more aid for the opposition, in order to redress the imbalance of forces on the ground.”
Rebels are massively outgunned by Syria’s army, which is backed by Russia, Iran and Lebanon’s powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah, and the opposition frequently calls on states that back the revolt to better arm the rebellion.
Pro-regime daily Al-Watan said the election was “just as important as that being fought by our brave soldiers on the frontlines” against the three-year rebellion against Assad.
British Foreign Secretary of State William Hague described the election as an insult.
“Assad lacked legitimacy before this election, and he lacks it afterwards,” he said. “This election bore no relation to genuine democracy.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry called the poll a “great big zero.”
“With respect to the elections that took place, the so-called elections, the elections are non-elections,” he said on a visit to neighbouring Lebanon on Wednesday.
He said “nothing has changed” as a result, and urged Assad’s foreign backers to take action to bring an end to the conflict that has killed more than 162,000 people and driven nearly half the population from their homes.
“I particularly call on those nations directly supporting the Assad regime … I call on them — Iran, Russia, and I call on Hezbollah, based right here in Lebanon to engage in the legitimate effort to bring this war to an end,” he said.
Russia earlier called for the speedy appointment of a new UN envoy to resume peace efforts. Lakhdar Brahimi, who brokered two rounds of abortive talks between the government and the opposition earlier this year, stepped down over the weekend, saying his mediation had reached a stalemate.
Brahimi had infuriated Damascus by criticising the election as an obstacle to his peace efforts.
Moscow, in turn, has angered the West by vetoing four draft UN Security Council resolutions in defence of Damascus, including a bid to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court.
Opposition activists said wearily that the election was likely to prolong the conflict, which has also sparked an exodus abroad of nearly three million refugees.
Speaking to AFP from Turkey, one of them who spent nearly two years trapped by the army siege in third city Homs, said he believed in a peaceful solution, but that Assad’s win made the prospects remoter than ever.
“Sadly the election means that the fighting and bloodshed will also continue, and no one knows for how long, while the refugees will stay in the camps,” he said, identifying himself only as Thaer.
“The truth is that, even though everyone wants a political solution, that cannot happen with Assad in power… The war will continue, and the Syrians will continue to kill each other.”