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Eyewitness to Syria presidential election: Is the end to the U.S. war in sight?

By Joe Iosbaker

Joe Iosbaker (center) with other observers to Syria's elections.

Damascus, Syria – Ten people from the U.S., Canada and Ireland have traveled to Syria to observe the presidential elections taking place here June 3. Our delegation is mainly anti-war and international solidarity activists who are members of organizations including the International Action Center, Syria Solidarity Committee, the Anti-War Committee-Chicago, the United National Antiwar Coalition and the International Solidarity Movement. We are hosted by a Iranian non-governmental organization, the International Union of Unified Ummah (Muslim community).

Since arriving in Damascus yesterday, we’ve had several meetings with officials and experts to get an understanding of the elections and what’s at stake. Our first meeting was with Dr. Bassam Abu Abdallah, a local member of the nationalist Baath Party and director of the Damascus Security Center. He talked about how this will be the first multi-party election for president. The rules of the election were established in a new constitution voted on last year.

The three candidates on the ballot were selected from an initial list of 24. The requirements to run include being Syrian, having lived in the country for at least the last ten years, and having the endorsement of 35 members of the national assembly. Previously, the Baath Party was constitutionally the only party that could lead the government. This change was a big concession to demands raised by the protests in the Arab Spring in 2011.

Dr. Abu Abdallah was asked if the elections would have an effect on the armies fighting the government. He answered yes, that it will demoralize them, saying, “First, they see that the U.S. won’t send troops. They’re tired of fighting and they have no vision, other than dying and going to paradise.”

As with the liberation of the Old City in Homs, the mercenaries can see the writing on the wall. “First we put them under siege. The foreign-backed armies previously had perhaps 500,000 with them. Now they have only 100,000. Our soldiers in the Syrian Arab Army [SAA] will continue to fight until the last centimeters of land,” Abdullah added.

Election commission

On the second day, we met with the election commission. Hasham Al Shaher, the commission head, told us we were free to go where we wanted to observe at the polling places. Some will go to Homs, or Atakia and others will stay in Damascus.

He explained that the commission is independent of the administration and appointed to four-year terms. People over 18 years of age (15 million people) are eligible to vote. All that is needed to vote is to be a citizen and to have an ID. No one is required to register in advance.

The Western media was stunned when hundreds of thousands of refugees turned out to vote in Beirut in neighboring Lebanon. It turns out that the commissioners were surprised by the turnout as well. As a result, many thousands were turned away. The Lebanese authorities told them if they returned to Syria to vote, they’d be denied re-entry into Lebanon.

The outpouring was overwhelmingly people wanting to vote for the current president, Bashar al Assad. Coming from people displaced by the war, this was a clear message of opposition to the so-called rebels. Commissioner Al Shaher said, “This shows the insistence and nationalist feelings of the Syrians. Over 95% of those eligible registered to vote.”

Speaker of the Parliament

Speaker of the Parliament Jihad Laham described the political situation they are facing with this war. “We take issue with the criminal American policy to Syria and Palestine. China and Russia have used their veto power to stop the criminal war, while the U.S. has used their veto power 60 times to shield Israel.”

“Unfortunately,” he continued, “we live in dog eat dog times, where the powerful eat the less powerful.” He explained that they had invited parliamentarians to see the truth, but U.S. and NATO governments pressured them not to. “The U.S. is partnered with Saudi Arabia, which has no elections.”

He told us, “Most of the organizations fighting have extreme Islamic orientation. Syria has survived because we are in the right.” The speaker related some of the features of the social program of the government. “Basic food is subsidized: two kilos of bread is less than 10 cents. Education is free. Health care is free. Fuel is subsidized.”

Returning to the countries behind the war, he continued, “Where did the rebels get their weapons? From neighbors with the support of the U.S. and NATO.”

Regarding the moment of the chemical weapon attack last summer that was President Obama’s ‘red line,’ upon which he threatened to hit Syria with hundreds of cruise missiles, the speaker said, “Syria had requested the U.N. to investigate a sarin gas attack in March 2013. It took three months for the inspection committee to arrive, and just then, there was another attack in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta.”

He denied the use of sarin by the government forces, noting, “The SAA is victorious daily; why would we need sarin?”

A question was asked about U.S. objectives and next steps after the election. Laham replied, “The U.S. plan is unchangeable, but sometimes they are forced to delay.” This helped make it clear to the anti-war forces in the room that we had to return to the U.S. and educate people about what we learn from the elections, in order to win people to taking a stand against the U.S. war which has already killed as many as 160,000 people.

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