Syrian Election Expected To Give Assad Another Term

Bashar Assad expects a victory in Tuesday's presidential election to grant his regime legitimacy. David Greene talks to Sam Dagher, of The Wall Street Journal, for an election preview.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Syria might be in the midst of a civil war right now, but Syrians - at least some of them - are going to the polls tomorrow for a presidential election. Opposition groups are boycotting this vote, which means Bashar al-Assad is certain to win a third term as president. Secretary of State John Kerry is calling this vote a farce, and British Foreign Secretary William Hank says the election is a quote, "parody of democracy." The Wall Street Journal's Sam Dagher is in Damascus and he joins us on the line. Sam, good morning.

SAM DAGHER: Good morning to you.

GREENE: So does it feel like we're getting close to an election the capital?

DAGHER: It certainly does. I mean, everywhere you turn there are election posters, billboards - but guess what - they are mostly of one man, Bashar al-Assad.

GREENE: And what do those billboards look like? What do they say?

DAGHER: One of the posters that really caught my attention hangs from the vaulted ceiling of the ancient market here in Damascus. It shows President Assad in military uniform, and the caption underneath his image says God has created you to be president of the Syrian Arab Republic.

GREENE: Wow. That message is not that subtle.

DAGHER: (Laughing) I guess not.

GREENE: Well, what exactly does the regime have to gain here, Sam, from holding this election - if we call it that?

DAGHER: A lot, David. I mean, the Secretary of State and others may dismiss it as a farce. But for the regime and its allies, namely Hezbollah and Iran and also Russia, this is a huge deal because first of all, it proves all the enemies - so-called enemies from the point of view of the regime, including the U.S. and the West - that they were absolutely wrong, that all their bets against him were absolutely wrong, and that his people love him and are going to go out and vote for him. And this affirms his legitimacy.

GREENE: And, Sam, I guess we should say there is a lot of opposition to Assad in the country. I mean, if there are people who feel it's safe enough to go vote for someone else are there other candidates to vote for?

DAGHER: Well, I mean, there are two other candidates that are running in this election. But nobody's taking them seriously because nobody knows them. I mean, one of them is a little-known member of Parliament from Aleppo. And the other one is a Damascus-based businessman, U.S. educated. A lot of Syrians - a lot of average Syrians - here inside the country are saying these people were hand-picked by the regime for this largely theatrical exercise in which President Assad is guaranteed to win.

GREENE: I mean, this is a country that is suffering through a bloody civil war where there doesn't appear to be an end in sight. You mentioned this election might, in the hopes of the regime, give the regime legitimacy. Is there a chance this will change how the war plays out in some way?

DAGHER: Well, a lot of people are saying - and also the signals we're getting from the battlefield - is that right after the elections that, you know, we will see a ratcheting up of military operations in many parts of the country, either, you know, in accelerated efforts to try to reach a truce with the rebels here or some sort of a military solution.

GREENE: One or the other, they might try to push to end this somehow.

DAGHER: Exactly. And that's the mindset they're in.

GREENE: Is there a chance that this election could anger the opposition and cause them to fight even harder at this point?

DAGHER: Absolutely. I mean, that's plausible. We're already hearing threats from many quarters warning people not to go down and vote tomorrow, that, you know, polling stations will be attacked. But you have to remember, I mean, the opposition is in a very, very bad shape. Probably the worst position since the start of the uprising.

GREENE: We've been speaking to Sam Dagher, the Wall Street Journal's Middle East correspondent, speaking to us from the Syrian capital of Damascus about election day in Syria tomorrow, in which President Bashar al-Assad is certain to win. Sam, thanks very much.

DAGHER: My pleasure.

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