Syria: Bashar al-Assad re-elected for fourth term with 95.1% of votes in presidential elections

Bashar al-Assad was re-elected as president of war-torn Syria with 95.1 percent of the votes cast in government-held areas, official results showed.

The elections was the second since the beginning of Syria’s uprising-turned-war a decade ago, a conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, forced millions to leave the country and wrecked its infrastructure.

Head of parliament Hammouda Sabbagh announced the results at a news conference on Thursday, saying voter turnout was about 78 percent, with more than 14 million Syrians taking part.

Standing against al-Assad were two obscure candidates: former deputy cabinet minister Abdallah Salloum Abdallah and Mahmud Ahmad Marei, a member of the so-called “tolerated opposition”, long dismissed by exiled opposition leaders as an extension of al-Assad’s government.

Marei got 3.3 percent of the vote, while Salloum received 1.5 percent, Sabbagh said.

On the eve of the election, the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Italy said the poll was “neither free nor fair”, and Syria’s fragmented opposition has called it a “farce”.

But there were no doubts that al-Assad would be re-elected. In the previous polls in 2014, he had won nearly 89 percent of the vote.

Houwayda al-Nidal, a 52-year-old doctor, told AFP news agency that al-Assad’s victory “carries two messages”.

The first is that of a leader who has won the war and will lead the reconstruction, he said, and “the second is intended for foreigners to show who will lead the political talks after the end of the fighting on the ground.”

The vote was boycotted by the Syrian Democratic Council, which administers an autonomous oil-rich region in the northeast, as well as in the northwestern region of Idlib, where people denounced the election in large protests.

More than 80 percent of the population live in poverty, and the Syrian pound has plunged in value against the US dollar, causing skyrocketing inflation.

Al-Assad’s campaign slogan, “Hope through work”, evoked the colossal reconstruction needed to rebuild the country, requiring billions of dollars in funding.

Al-Assad was first elected by referendum in 2000 after the death of his father Hafez al-Assad, who had ruled Syria for 30 years.

The UN’s Syria envoy, Geir Pedersen, noted the polls were not held under the political transition called for by Security Council Resolution 2254 which provides for free and fair elections.

“What is required is a Syrian-led and -owned political solution, facilitated by the United Nations and backed by constructive international diplomacy,” he said.