Syria Needs Elections, Not Arms


If Syrians re-elected their president in a free and fair election, would the rebels and their sponsors pack up and go home?

Imagine if the UN Supervision Mission in Syria extended its mandate to beyond August to monitor a national referendum on the Syrian presidency. Threats, violence and boycotts could be prevented, and all eligible citizens could vote free from fear or favour.

We have seen UN Peacekeeping missions provide security, technical, logistical and educational support for referendums and elections at polling stations in volatile areas. During the past two decades, the UN has provided such assistance to over 100 countries such as Cambodia in May 1993, East Timor in August 2001 and South Sudan in January 2011.

Syrian citizens already cast their votes at the unprecedented multi-party elections on 7 May, where 7125 candidates, including 710 women, competed for the 250 seat People’s Assembly. 

But the last presidential election was held in May 2007 and "officially" gave Bashar Al-Assad 97.6 per cent approval to continue for his second seven year term. This was farcical given that he was unopposed. Yet since the Arab Spring ignited Syria in March 2011, tens of thousands of civilians, soldiers and rebels have perished in an international proxy war.

Syria has become increasingly militarised thanks to Russia, China and Iran, who are propping up and protecting the regime, while US, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and al Qaeda are arming, aiding and abetting the rebels, suicide bombers, terrorists and their mercenaries. It was revealed this week that the Obama Administration was collaborating with Saudi Arabia and Qatar to channel military and communications aid to a secret "nerve centre" in Adana, a Turkish city about 100 kilometres from the Syrian border.

It is no surprise that UN Special Envoy Kofi Annan has announced his resignation from the post. He must have been tempted to lose his diplomatic demeanour and overturn the "negotiation table". These key stakeholder nations talk about a political solution but under the table they sabotage his "peace plan" with a lucrative supply chain of arms. Hence he criticised the "clear lack of unity" and "finger pointing and name calling in the Security Council". In case there was any question about which side Annan was referring to, White House spokesman Jay Carney was quick to blame Russia and China.

While the disparate rebel groups and their sponsors demand that Assad must step down to save Syria from further bloodshed, the terror tactics of the rebels have alienated citizens who support the president. A circuit breaker could be brokered if all parties disarm and the next presidential election is brought forward from 2014.

If the Syrian National Council ostensibly represents the majority, then it must honour the free will of the citizens and look forward to greater legitimacy. If the Assad regime ostensibly retains the confidence of its citizens, then it should have nothing to hide or fear, and should look forward to vindication.

It is already on the public record that the president will only stay if it is the will of his people, not the Baath Party. In a February 2012 referendum that saw the end of the Baath Party monopoly, Assad also ushered in a reform that would cap any president to two seven-year terms.

Assad should order his supporters to fully cooperate with the UN Monitors. If he fails to gain the majority of votes, he should honour the will of the citizens and step down, facing the consequences under national and international laws — whether it be amnesty, exile or trial.

Similarly, the Syrian National Council should order the Free Syrian Army and all its international collaborators to back off, so the voice of the people can prevail. If Assad is re-elected, then those claiming to be the legitimate opposition must equally honour the will of Syria’s citizens.

It means the Syrian National Council may become a political party in the new pluralistic political system. The Free Syrian Army would disarm, perhaps with an amnesty, and disband immediately. The remaining Salafists, terrorists, suicide bombers and mercenaries would "return to sender".

Most importantly, their international sponsors such as the USA, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey would have to honour the UN monitored result and immediately cut supply to the rebel militias. Who could argue with this fair proposal?

The USA does. While they are ostensibly interested in democracy and peace, their unspoken agenda has nothing to do with Syria. It has everything to do with two other countries: Iran and Israel, which were prominently in the news before the Syrian uprising but have since disappeared off the radar.

The US insists Iran is making a nuclear weapon, despite the country’s insistence that their nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. Israel is threatened by the possibility of another nuclear power in the region, especially given Iran’s allies on its border — Syria and Hezbollah.

So if the US does not wish to provoke the ire of a potentially nuclear Iran, as it may indirectly endanger Israel, what is the next best contingency to protect Israel? Weaken Syria by engineering a "civil war" so that Syria’s army, president and borders are exhausted, and the country self implodes into a non threatening neighbour.

Of course, what will be said in public would be more benevolent: we cannot accept the outcome of the UN monitored presidential election because those in exile or who have sought asylum in Turkey could not vote. The Syrian people have lived in fear under a dictatorship for over 40 years, when voting against the president was suicidal.

Only in hot water can we flush out the true colors of this "civil war".

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.