Syrian President Bashar al-Assad received 95.1% of the vote in an election that will extend his authority over a country ravaged by war, but which opponents and the West accuse of being rigged.
Assad’s regime claims that the election on Wednesday demonstrated that Syria is working regularly despite a decade-long conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced 11 million people, or half of the country’s population.
At a news conference on Thursday, Head of Parliament Hammouda Sabbagh revealed the results, claiming that voter turnout was over 78%, with more than 14 million Syrians voting.
The election went ahead despite a U.N.-led peace process that had called for voting under international supervision that would help pave the way for a new constitution and a political settlement.
The foreign ministers of France, Germany, Italy, Britain and the United States said in a statement criticizing Assad ahead of the election that the vote would not be free or fair. Turkey, an Assad adversary, has also said the election was illegitimate.
The win delivers Assad, 55, seven more years in power and lengthens his family’s rule 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 peaceful protests before spiraling into a multi-sided conflict that has fractured the Middle Eastern country and drawn in foreign friends and enemies.
“Thank you to all Syrians for their high sense of nationalism and their notable participation. … 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 wrote on his campaign’s Facebook page.
Assad’s biggest challenge, now that he has regained control of around 70% of the country, will be an economy in decline.
Tightening U.S. sanctions, neighboring 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 prospects for recovery look poor.
Rallies with thousands of people waving Syrian flags and holding pictures of Assad while singing and dancing took place all day Thursday in celebration of the election.
Officials have told Reuters privately that authorities organized the large rallies in recent days to encourage voting, and the security apparatus that underpins Assad’s Alawite minority-dominated rule had instructed state employees to vote.
The vote was boycotted by the U.S.-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% of the vote, while Saloum received 1.5%, Sabbagh said.
In this regard, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday congratulated ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on his re-election, saying it confirmed his “high political authority” in the war-torn country.
“The vote results fully confirmed your high political authority and the confidence of your fellow citizens in the course taken under your leadership to stabilize the situation in Syria as soon as possible,” Putin said in a message to Assad published by the Kremlin.