Presidential Campaign Begins in Syria Without Apparent Enthusiasm; Opposition Rejects as “Charade” 

As the election campaigns of presidential hopefuls begin, Syria is filled with dozens of slogans and promises.

The three Syrian presidential candidates began their election campaigns on Sunday after the Supreme Constitutional Court confirmed the names of the candidates.

President Bashar al-Assad’s supporters began their campaign under the slogan “Hope in action.” Pictures and videos were displayed in which Assad was seen visiting the armed forces, and industrial production plants, and consoling the wounded. 

On Saturday, Assad and his media pages launched his campaign for Syria’s presidential elections. The elections will be held on May 26, under the slogan “Hope in action.”  

The official media campaign was preceded by several movements of “Islamic, political, media and party” figures. They all demanded, on the basis of “loyalty and patriotism,” that Syrians re-elect Assad, portraying him as if Syria’s “salvation” depends on him. This was evident in the latest videos from the sheikhs of Damascus. 

“Hope in action” campaign logo included “buildings, wheat, and industrial gears”. This logo indicated that Assad will work towards restoring the economy to full strength, starting reconstruction, and the rebuilding industry. However, Syrians remembered the 2014 campaign entitled “Together” which included similar promises that were never delivered.  

Pro-Syrian regime media pages posted the campaign slogan on social media. Several official pages and government ministries reposted it. 

The announcement of the presidential campaign logo coincided with demonstrations loyal to the Syrian regime’s president in several Syrian areas. These demonstrations, called “Loyalty to Assad”, were attended by Ba’ath Party representatives and local officials.

Pages loyal to the president spread rumors of Assad’s plan to raise salaries and fight corruption after his re-election. His photographs were circulated in the main squares and entrances to towns and villages in Latakia, and carried slogans such as “With Assad, we continue the journey” and “Standing with you”.

Mahmoud Merhi 

Meanwhile, pictures were posted on social media showing the launch of the election campaign of Mahmoud Merhi, Assad’s second rival to Syria’s presidency. One of the road signs carried the slogan “Together to release the prisoners of conscience.” 

Merhi identified himself as a “national opponent” stating that he came from the opposition. At the same time, he indicated that he did not leave Syria as other opposition members did. In today’s episode, you follow a special dialogue with the candidate. Merhi posted a short video on Facebook in which he emphasized his plan made up of three points: reconstruction and fighting sanctions against the Syrian government; the release of prisoners of conscience; and the establishment of a state based on equal citizenship.” 

Merhi is the secretary-general of the Syrian opposition Democratic Front, the secretary-general of the National Democratic Action Commission, and a member of the internal opposition negotiating delegation in Geneva. 

“My electoral program includes national constants including the unity and sovereignty of the Syrian Arab Republic on all its territory, standing against the occupations, lifting the unilateral sanctions imposed on Syria and the Syrian people, releasing the prisoners of conscience, the detained, the disappeared and missing, honoring the families of martyrs. It also includes returning all displaced Syrians, and securing a healthy standard of living for all Syrians, amending and changing electoral, political and media laws, re-writing a contemporary constitution on the basis of equal citizenship for all Syrians,”  Merhi said in an interview with the Russian magazine Sputnik. “We will work to get out of the crisis and rebuild, and hold a Syrian national dialogue conference in Damascus.”

“For the first time in Syrian history, the opposition is taking part in the presidential elections. To date, political life has not existed in Syria, and no one has participated in the country’s administration. We care about the interests of Syria and the Syrian people, and we do not accept that there is a vacuum, be that a legislative, presidential, or constitutional vacuum,” Merhi said.

Merhi added: “Today, Syria and the Syrian people have sister countries, including Algeria, Iraq, Egypt, and some Gulf countries. Syria also has friends and allies such as Russia, Iran, China, and Brix countries, all of which stood with Syria in the most trying circumstances. We will not forget our allies; at the same time, we will not forget the enemies who lurked in Syria, destroyed the country, and stole its resources. We will do everything possible to evict all occupiers and allow the Syrian armed forces to protect Syria’s borders and territory.” 

Abdullah Abdullah 

The third candidate in Syria’s presidential election, Abdullah Salloum Abdullah, began his campaign today with the slogan, “Our strength is in our unity.” The campaign also featured general slogans like “Towards a strong and effective progressive national front”, “No to corruption; yes to fighting corruption,” and “No to terrorism; yes to defeating occupiers.” In addition, the campaign has a slogan focused on creating an attractive environment for investment and another slogan about “the dignified return of displaced Syrians”. 

Counter-campaign 

In the southern province of Dara’a, activists have launched a counter-campaign that calls for boycotting the elections. Posters and leaflets were distributed in the governorate’s cities and villages as part of a campaign entitled, “Don’t elect the tyrant.” The campaign featured slogans such as “Don’t elect the criminal of our times,” “Don’t elect the friend of the Zionists,” and “Electing the tyrant means that your children die of starvation and disease.” 

Officials from the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria recently announced their refusal to facilitate presidential elections in areas controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces. Elections will not go ahead in areas of northwestern Syria either, which are controlled by Syrian opposition forces. At the same time, the “Horan Free League” in the southern region stated that the regime has canceled a number of polling stations in the Daraa Governorate. This decision resulted from threats made by the governorate’s inhabitants against officials and staff overseeing the polling stations, on the basis of “refusing to legitimize the Syrian regime’s head after the crimes he committed over the years.”

Abuse of state institutions 

Several irregularities and violations have marred the current “presidential elections,” even within the terms of the current “constitution.” These violations include the use of state institutions and property to serve the incumbent president, including official state social media pages posting pictures of Assad and his election campaign. This conduct purported that the Ministry of Electricity or the Ministry of Oil & Mineral Reserves belongs to Assad, as if part of his corporate portfolio, rather than belonging to the people.

The abuse of state institutions did not stop there. Assad supporters erected banners supporting Assad on construction cranes, electricity and telecommunications infrastructure, and other state-owned assets – from the budgets of these state-owned institutions. Those supporting these actions are the Ba’ath Party, as well as military and political figures, in several governorates and areas under Assad’s control.

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