On Thursday, May 20, Syrian army personnel began hanging pictures of regime president Bashar al-Assad and banners supporting his election campaign in their main barracks and on military building walls. The soldiers were ordered to show their “loyalty” to the commander-in-chief of the army and armed forces.
The political administration is entrusted with the task of promoting elections in the army. It began an intensive election drive ten days ago, which promoted the regime head and invited all soldiers to exercise their democratic rights in support of Assad and to vote by using blood, according to Enab Baladi sources.
“Honor” of the uniform
Mohamed, an air defense officer who withheld his full name for security reasons, told Enab Baladi that the Political Guidance Department’s activities had increased in pace in the last 10 days. Guidance leaflets called on soldiers to show appreciation and support for the commander and follow military orders.
Mohamed added that the brigadier-general, who leads his brigade, canceled the brigade’s holidays by telephone. He gathered soldiers and officers during the past Eid al-Fitr and, after greeting them, he brought ballot papers and a pin. The brigadier-general then ordered everyone in the armed forces to write their votes not with a pen but blood.
Mohammed’s commander told the soldiers that participating in the elections was “not mandatory.” He added, however, that the “honor” of wearing a military uniform “requires” that the soldiers support their leader and vote for him with their blood.
Are the military allowed to vote?
Since the time of former President Hafez al-Assad, Syrian military personnel has been ordered to vote in referendums and forced to write their votes in blood. Those soldiers who do not are held to account by officers in the security sectors and branches, making participation compulsory.
The 2014 General Elections Law does not prevent military personnel from electing the President of the Republic; they are, however, prevented from voting in elections for the People’s Assembly and local councils.
Photos added to the “Mafeeshin” check
Ranking military officers called on “Mafeeshin” soldiers – those who pay bribes to avoid attending to their military duties – to present Assad’s images for inspection at military facilities.
In the Syrian army, “tafyish” (con artistry) describes an existing relationship between an officer and a soldier. Money is paid to the officer, who is then responsible for concealing the soldier’s non-attendance from other officers and not including the soldier’s name in absentee records.
“Tafyish” is an old phenomenon among the regime’s forces, which creates corruption and favoritism between officers and soldiers. The amounts paid for “tafyish” vary, depending on the gravity of the position in which the soldier is serving. Amounts range from 200,000 Syrian pounds ($62) to avoid service in administrative contexts and far from the battlefronts and rise to 500,000 Syrian pounds ($155) to evade frontline service.
Hussein, an army conscript to the “First Division,” told Enab Baladi that he pays 250,000 Syrian pounds to avoid attending his military post. Nevertheless, the officer-in-charge asked him to bring a picture of Bashar al-Assad, marked with his name and phrases indicating his absolute loyalty to al-Assad. The picture, which is two meters in size, costs around 150,000 Syrian pounds ($46).
The regime is preparing to hold presidential elections on May 26. After dozens of candidates applied, the Constitutional Court accepted applications from two candidates, as well as Bashar al-Assad. Al-Assad launched his electoral campaign, “Hope in Action,” on May 15.
Syrians know that the presidential election’s outcome is already decided in Assad’s favor. The other candidates did not offer genuine competition, who did not receive any media coverage, except for some roadside billboards bearing their campaign slogans. This lack of competition has caused Syrians to describe the elections as “performative.”
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.