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Syria says Assad won 95.1 percent of votes in presidential poll

Election widely criticised as fraudulent by the international community gives president another seven years in office
Bashar al-Assad extends his family's rule over Syria to nearly six decades (AFP)

Syria has announced that President Bashar al-Assad won 95.1 percent of the vote this week in a presidential election widely rejected as fraudulent.

After a decade of war, which has killed half a million people and displaced another 11 million - about half the population - Assad's government says the election on Wednesday shows Syria is functioning normally.

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Head of parliament Hammouda Sabbagh announced the results at a news conference on Thursday, saying voter turnout was around 78 percent, with more than 14 million Syrians taking part in Syria and the diaspora.

In a statement criticising Assad ahead of the election, the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Italy, Britain and the United States said that the vote would not be free or fair. 

Turkey, an Assad adversary, has also said the election was illegitimate.

On Wednesday, hundreds of Syrians in Idlib province, the opposition's last redoubt, protested against the election and Assad's rule.

Demonstrations were also witnessed in southern Daraa, where the revolt against the Syrian government first broke out in 2011. Daraa has been under Assad's control since 2018, but remains volatile. A banner was raised over a Daraa mosque reading "There is no future for Syrians with the killer", according to Step News Agency.

Six decades of power

The continued rule of Assad, 55, was never in doubt. He now officially has seven more years in power and extends his family's rule over Syria to nearly six decades. 

His father, Hafez al-Assad, led Syria for 30 years until his death in 2000.

Assad's years as president have been defined by the conflict that began in 2011, with a deadly crackdown on peaceful protests spiralling into a multi-sided conflict that has fractured the country and drawn in foreign powers.

"Thank you to all Syrians for their high sense of nationalism and their notable participation," Assad wrote on his campaign's Facebook page. "For the future of Syria's children and its youth, let's start from tomorrow our campaign of work to build hope and build Syria."

Assad's biggest challenge, now he has regained control of around 70 percent of the country, will be an economy in decline. Tightening US sanctions, neighbouring Lebanon's financial collapse, the Covid-19 pandemic hitting remittances from Syrians abroad and the inability of allies Russia and Iran to provide enough relief mean that prospects for recovery look poor.

Vote boycott

Rallies took place all day Thursday in celebration of the election, with thousands of the president's supporters waving Syrian flags and holding pictures of Assad while singing and dancing.

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Officials have told Reuters privately that authorities organised the large rallies in recent days to encourage voting, and the security apparatus that underpins Assad's Alawite-dominated rule had instructed state employees to vote.

The vote was boycotted by the US-backed Kurdish-led forces who administer an autonomous oil-rich region in the northeast, and in northwestern Idlib region, the last existing rebel enclave, where people denounced the election in large demonstrations on Wednesday.

Assad was running against two obscure candidates, former deputy cabinet minister Abdallah Saloum Abdallah and Mahmoud Ahmed Marei, head of a small, officially sanctioned opposition party. Marei got 3.3 percent of the vote, and Saloum 1.5 percent, Sabbagh said.