Syrians at the Polls: To Vote – Yes or No

Everyone interested in the election process in Syria should read Ammar Abdulhamid's Tharwa Project, which is running interesting commentary on the elections in both Arabic and English. The Tharwa Community has gathered commentary from several Syrian cities on the progress of the elections. The cartoons and photos attached to each article are as much fun as the reporting is discouraging. I have copied a few from the Arabic section below.

The opposition has called on Syrians to boycot the election process. The Tharwa Community site, however, makes it is clear that a number of Syrian reformers are not heeding this advice. For example Bassam Ishak is running in the Hassakeh elections as an independent. He probably does not have a chance of winning because the regime has already selected the four independents that it wants to win in the region. I salute Ishak, however, who I got to know in Syria in 2005. He is smart, educated, and champions the best interests of Syria. He ran in the last elections, four years ago, and won an overwhelming victory by getting some 200,000 votes. He was not declared the winner, however, because the regime supported his opponent. But he is at it again. I think it is important for reformers to keep trying even if they know they will not be successful and the process is rigged.

Why is this important? The regime is constantly looking for the most effective way to control the Syrian provinces. In the Hassakeh region, it failed miserably to keep its hand on the pulse on the population. This was clear in 2004, when the Kurdish intifada broke out, leading to widespread disturbances and the killing of a number of demonstrators and the arrest of many more.

By running campaigns, reformers can demonstrating that an alternative elite exists. When the next round of disturbances breaks out, perhaps local authorities will be forced to compromise with the local wujha, or notables, who can represent the people and bring stability to and region by demanding change and better representation?

So long as there is no apparent alternative to the regime, it is all too easy for the authorities to exploit the situation and insist that they stand alone as the solution to Syria's situation. This has been the Syrian dilemma. The absence of a alternative has played into the regime's hands. I have no illusions about how difficult this is to do, but only persistence and constant work in the field by reforms is likely to bear results. Syrians do not want revolutionary change today. They are frightened of violence. Cultivating a responsible alternative seems to be the only realistic option for reformers and the opposition.

Sami Moubayed makes a different argument for why Syrians should: Vote on Sunday.

Here are some highlights from the Tharwa project coverage:

Evidently in Hassakeh in the Jazira, the regime created a shadow list of four independent candidates that it wrote onto the ballets so there would be no confusion about which candidates locals were to vote for. Most independents who were not on the shadow list have withdrawn, but Bassam Ishak and Alaa al-Din Riziko. 

Here is reporting on the Hassakeh election process:

Syrian  Elector, Hassakeh (6:37 am Eastern/01:37 am Damascus) – This ballot fromBallot_from_hassakeh_2 Hassakeh shows how the names of the Shadow List members were written in blue on the ballot. The printed names are those of the National Progressive Front. Section A is reserved for framers and workers. SEction B is for the rest. Hassakeh is alloted 14 representatives only, only four of them are independents, with one only falling in section A. the Baath has always sought to retain control over workers and farmers, leavig no room for businessmen and merchants. This is why, they have to run always as independents.

Syrian  Elector, Hassakeh (6:13 am Eastern/01:13 am Damascus) – Low turnout continues to be the order of the day in Hassakeh. Local authorities and Baath branches are bringing electoral cards of their members and those collected from various citizens (most likely army recruits, and prisoners, etc.) to the electoral centers. All will be used to support the National progressive Fronts and the Shadow List of course.

But not all bath members are happy. A local Baath member indeed acknowledges that the elections:

are not democratic, but an electoral skullduggery where security apparatuses impose their candidates that we are not convinced of, and that we know will not do anything to the Governorate. I say to whoever interferes in appointing [sic] the candidates in the Governorate of Hassakeh: “leave people choose whoever they want, let’s be democratic for only one day.”

Syrian  Elector, Hassakeh (3:18 am Eastern/10:18 am Damascus) – Voter turnout in Hassakeh is extremely low as as result of the early confirmation of the shadow list (the unofficial list of independents actually supported by the authorities). Baathists are currently finalizing the confirmation procedures as security officers write the names of the four candidates in blue, sealing the deal. 

Syrian  Elector, Hassakeh (3:09 am Eastern/10:09 am Damascus) – All independent candidates but two have withdrawn their names from the elections due to the confirmation by the local authorities of the pro-regime shadow list. The only known exceptions are Bassam Saeed Ishak, the son of a former Syrian President who ruled Syria for one day, and Alaa al-Din Riziko.

Here is another of the Tharwa photos used to spoof the election process in Syria. It is in bad taste, but invokes the derision that many Syrians express toward their electoral process and traditional Africans alike.

Addendum on photo: SimoHurtta corrected me and wrote

Actually the picture is from New Guinea which is located in Asia. Either from Indonesia's part or Papua New Guinea. Papua New Guinea's chief of state is Elisabeth II. Both Indonesia's Irian and Papua New Guinea are seen as democracies (= US and other international companies have there no difficulties in digging gold and other natural resources. Well the local people are not very happy after swimming in the cyanide and despite of democracy and free trade have not got wealthy).

Memri has compiled a good selction of translations of the Syrian press and opposition figures writing about the elections here: Criticism of the Upcoming Parliamentary Elections in the Official Syrian Press and Among the Syrian Opposition.

Comments (72)

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51. K said:


My objection to the use of mathematical models in political analysis, notwithstanding;

Please elaborate on 2 factors for me:
1. The actions the people must take to introduce reform
2. the 3 units of progress attainable within the limits imposed by the regime

… as briefly or extensively as you like.

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April 23rd, 2007, 6:33 pm


52. Alex said:

No Ehsani,

I was watching coverage in France of hte French elections and one of the Le Monde reporters commented that Sarkozy is like Napoleon III in the sense that he is proposing excessive leadership from above for setting the direction of change in France. He said that the French people are finding that unacceptable.

The regime is not the only part of Syria that needs reform. And it is not the only party in Syria that can contribute to, or initiate progress!

Let us try our best to do our part in reforming Syria, reforming our own mentality and let us succeed in some places and fail in others and let us learn from the experience of trial and error.

We can’t always stay immature by blaming everything on the regime. Despite all the restrictions, there are many more opportunities today for those who want to contribute their small part towards progress.

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April 23rd, 2007, 6:33 pm


53. Atassi said:

Alex, I think your numbers will be more realistic if you add the reformers factors to the equation. If we can add the possibility of a “regime reformed” then the current leaders will not be in the office for ever.
the country will be in extreme need of a best leader available to lead it out of this mess. Please remember being a leader is very different than being a dictator!!

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April 23rd, 2007, 6:50 pm


54. Alex said:


Mathematical models are used in election campaigns in the United states and in France this year. They are useful, not perfect. I am only using them when I feel there is a very clear differential in the expected outcomes from two different options. Such a case will not be dependent on small variations in estimates (mine in this case).

To answer your two questions (in one shot, since they are similar I believe):

Start with what is wrong with Syria today, and think which parts can be tackled without being totally constrained by the regime’s slow reforms.

Here are some examples …

1) Adapting to the competitive nature of free economy.
2) Accepting various points of view with an open mind
3) Reforming education. Staring private modern schools and Universities (many have been started the past few years)
4) Seeking wisdom ! …
5) respecting laws (even if many regime members often do not)
6) investing our time and money into innovative small projects.

When we are done working on ourselves and our small businesses, then we can worry again about the regime. But to wait until the regime is gone while we do not do anything useful for ourselves or our country is often a matter of looking for an excuse to not work hard.

I mostly see “democracy fighters”! … can we switch that energy to fighting illiteracy? .. at least that would produce something useful … imagine if all the opposition’s efforts since 1977 were directed to more modest goals, short of revolutionary changes… which failed miserably.

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April 23rd, 2007, 6:56 pm


55. Alex said:

And Ehsani,

Declaring a monarchy is not necessary or desirable. But there is a third option if you remember what I was advocating when we had a huge discussion at Ammar’s blog last year… at the time you, two Lebanese, two Americans, Ammar, and an Israeli all put my suggestion under the microscope .. I think today if you go back to it you’ll find it much more reasonable.

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April 23rd, 2007, 7:09 pm


56. Syrian said:


What was your suggestion? Just curious.

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April 23rd, 2007, 7:13 pm


57. Alex said:

Bicameral parliament (house freely elected, senate with veto power represents all regions (or minorities)… guaranteeing secular nature of the state).

Secular president and army (instead of Ehsani’s Monarchy)

Freely elected prime minister .. all parties allowed to run except religious, regional or ethnic based parties … no MB, no Assyrian, no Kurdish, no “Aleppo” parties.

Elected prime minster controls the economy.

That’s where I would like to see Syria in 7-14 years.

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April 23rd, 2007, 8:13 pm


58. EHSANI2 said:


Me too.


Syria WILL NOT be there in 7-14 years. Let us get real. My monarchy recommendation is of a more sarcastic nature in case that was not obvious by now. Arab republics are that just in name. We are trying to force them look and feel like something they are not.

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April 23rd, 2007, 8:25 pm


59. Atassi said:

good plan. Please verify

Will sectarian allowed\ banned in the “Secular president and army?” … I mean Debaathification and DeAllawitfication of the president and army is on the agenda !! right

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April 23rd, 2007, 8:33 pm


60. Syrian said:


The path to monarchy is a lot shorter especially when you don’t believe that the authorities are willing to reform.

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April 23rd, 2007, 8:46 pm


61. trustquest said:

Alex: THANK YOU for admitting: “The same way you are upset at the
regime insulting people intelligence through these stupid elections”
I will frame this for future reference; I hope you won’t get punished for this.

Ehsani, if it not for your comments on this section, I would rather playing golf. I will be waiting for your blog to shed more light on economic matter.
Although your 5 years old know these election is a joke and insult, still the regime is kept doing this for 30 years. Man, some people do not understand what 30 years means, they confused between months and years. The road of 1000 miles start with one step, and I hope continuous and new revelation of the regime will lead to this change. And for the tanks part, remember one guy in china stopped a whole row of tanks and we can do it too.
Ehsani, you and I are not the ones who will shape the change from a coup, or public uprising, voluntary step down or regime change of minds, but me and you we could be great force to light couple of candles to what ever going to happen.

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April 23rd, 2007, 9:08 pm


62. Alex said:


I know you were sarcastic, don’t worry.

Atassi. The Presidency, army moukhabarat will still be controlled by roughly the same people who control them now, yes.

Having a proper freely-elected house, and a strong prime minister who controls the economy (and is accountable to Parliament) should supposedly be good enough to fight corruption, and to allow for a much more balanced share of power … would that be good enough? or do we prefer to stay in our 1977-2007 mode.

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April 23rd, 2007, 9:13 pm


63. Alex said:


You’re welcome to use that statement “against me” anytime. I am not a politician.

Can you explain to us in more practical terms what those two candles will do for Syria?

China is still governed by the Communist party, despite the beautiful symbolism of that courageous man standing in the way of those tanks.

And you still have to bribe local officials there if you want to start a serious business there… but that did not stop the country from moving forward.

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April 23rd, 2007, 9:37 pm


64. trustquest said:

I hope we are not going to end up like bunch of frogs croaking in a pond. I’m not trying to make a score here, and I’m not in position to use anything against anyone, maybe others can do this to me, however you admit ion is one step forward. If we can cause change to the country and push for reform and get 0.0001 of what china did, we could save our country and our people. Although change started in china when Nixon visit 1972, the Tiananmen incident following the death of Zhou Enlai happened in 1976 and Beijing spring started in 1977.
I would like to remind you that these changes happened by change, new leaders, Got it, new blood, new philosophies, renewal, change, kick the olds and bring the new, get rid of people who are stalling time………..I can fill words as much as you like.
Second, did you see the dates up, 1977, not 1963 Baath Party taking power, not 1970 Hafez Assad taking power. Now may be you need to go and see what they have done during those years.
Thank you

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April 23rd, 2007, 11:17 pm


65. Bakri said:

Alex,do u really think that more years with the mukhabarati-asadian-makhlufian anti syrian people rule will solve syria’s problems and strengthen national unity ?For sure it will add more hatred toward the mountains and will radicalize more and more the syrian population.What will you gain if the alawite regime remained 10 more years on the neck of the syrian people and the social reality on the ground is going from bad to worse ?

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April 23rd, 2007, 11:31 pm


66. Bakri said:

Alex,do u really think that more years with the mukhabarati-asadian-makhlufian anti syrian people rule will solve syria’s problems and strengthen national unity ?For sure it will add more hatred toward the mountains and will radicalize more and more the syrian population.What will you gain if the alawite regime remains 10 more years on the neck of the syrian people and the social reality on the ground is going from bad to worse ?

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April 24th, 2007, 2:29 am


68. ugarit said:

Alex said: “… no … ethnic based parties”

So also no Arab or Syrian nationalist parties?

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April 24th, 2007, 1:59 pm


69. ugarit said:

Bakri said: “will you gain if the alawite regime remains 10 more years on the neck of the syrian people and the social reality on the ground is going from bad to worse”

So now we’re anti-alawite?

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April 24th, 2007, 2:09 pm


70. Alex said:


: )

معي ولا ضدي؟

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April 24th, 2007, 3:51 pm


71. ugarit said:


موضدك ولامعك


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April 24th, 2007, 5:16 pm


72. Majhool said:

I also expect that in 40-67 years we all be dead.

Congrats to Masr

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February 11th, 2011, 1:01 pm


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