On the 18th of April, the Syrian regime announced that Syria’s presidential elections will be held on the 26th of May and on 21st of April, Bashar al-Assad, has officially announced his candidacy. These elections, which certainly guarantee the continuation of al-Assad’s brutal autocracy, are set to take place in the midst of a perpetual violent conflict where the ruling regime is systematically engaging in mass detention campaigns and UN-documented torture, use of chemical weapons, sexual violence, forced displacement, and deliberate attacks on hospitals.
For the past five decades, Syrian elections have been systematically engineered by al-Assad family which deprives Syrians from their political rights to participate in free, transparent and fair elections. Although a republic, Syria’s rule was passed down from father to son though a speedy constitutional process to amend age restrictions, allowing Bashar Al-Assad to rule Syria for more than 20 years.
We, the Syrian British Council (SBC), strongly believe that holding transparent, legitimate and democratic presidential elections in Syria can only be achieved under the supervision of the UN in accordance with the UNSC Resolution 2254. Elections should occur in a safe and neutral environment away from intimidation, discrimination and oppression. No individuals who have credible evidence against them in being linked to war crimes should be allowed to run, including al-Assad. The SBC joins the Syrian voices, inside Syria and abroad, in condemning, in the strongest possible terms, the holding of these sham and illegitimate elections which undermine the UN-backed political process.
The Syrian regime has continuously used elections to sabotage the political process. The former UN Special Envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, described the 2014 elections as slamming “the door to the Geneva negotiations for the foreseeable future". In January, 2021 Gere O. Pedersen, the current UN Special Envoy to Syria, said that the steps for creating a safe, calm and neutral environment in Syria have not been taken and, as a result, “free and fair elections to be held pursuant to a new constitution under UN supervision, as envisaged in Security Council resolution 2254, seem far into the future”.
On 2nd of December 2020, following a meeting with SBC, UK’s Shadow Ministers have written to the Government asking to state its position on the elections and “what is being done to ensure that those standing for elections are not able to use the electoral process to legitimize crimes that have taken place during the conflict?”. The Middle East Minister, James Cleverly, following a meeting with SBC confirmed the UK’s support for a UN led political process. Furthermore, the UK’s representative at the UN echoed our message in January 2021, stating that “plans to hold elections according to the previous constitution would contradict the political process by this Council. The UK will not recognize elections which are neither free nor fair.” This all was supported by remarks made on the 15th of March 2021 by the UK’s Foreign Secretary, where he stated that “The people of Syria deserve a credible, inclusive and non-sectarian government. They deserve not be gassed by their own government. They deserve – without the risk of arrest or torture – to be able to cast a vote, question the authorities or simply return to their homes in peace”.
Therefore, the SBC, in pursuant with the UK’s support for a democratic transition in Syria that meets the aspirations of Syrians, ask the UK Government to spare no efforts in condemning the upcoming presidential elections by issuing an official statement which clearly articulates the UK’s position regarding these elections and puts pressure on the Syrian regime and its allies to adhere to a meaningful and serious engagement in the UN-backed political process, in line with UNSCR 2254.
The Syrian British Council, 21 April 2021