Just like USA: Syrians vote in election that Europeans, US, say is ’neither free nor fair’

Polls have opened in Syria, where president Bashar Al-Assad is running for a fourth term in office in an election that the foreign ministers of France and three other European countries, along with the United States, say will be neither free nor fair.

More than 18 million people are eligible to vote in Syria and abroad. Interior Minister Mohammad Rahmoun said 12,102 polling stations were set up in all the Syrian governorates. Syrians living abroad voted last week.

The government says the election shows Syria is functioning normally, despite a decade-old war, but the opposition and Western nations say it is just a rubber stamp of Assad’s continuing hold on power.

Assad is all but certain to be re-elected to a fourth seven-year term. Opponents abroad were barred from running against him. The two candidates opposing him, Abdullah Salloum Abdullah and Mahmoud Ahmad Marie, are not well known, and are considered to be largely symbolic.

The Syrian Democratic Council that runs daily affairs in northeast Syria said in a statement it will not take part in the vote “before political solutions in accordance with United Nations Security Council resolutions, release of detainees, return of displaced and putting the basis for a political structure far away from tyranny.”

Absence of neutral environment

"We support the voices of all Syrians, including civil society organisations and the Syrian opposition, who have condemned the electoral process as illegitimate,” said the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Italy, Britain, and the United States, in a joint statement on Tuesday.

“For an election to be credible, all Syrians should be allowed to participate, including internally displaced Syrians, refugees, and members of the diaspora, in a safe and neutral environment," it said. Without these conditions, the elections “will neither be free nor fair.”

No vote will be held in northeast Syria, which is controlled by US-backed Kurdish-led fighters, or in Idlib province, the last major rebel stronghold in the country.

Last week, thousands of Syrian refugees and expatriates cast early ballots in embassies, but Syrians who fled the country illegally, who do not have an exit stamp in their passport, were barred from voting.

Several countries that oppose Assad blocked the vote altogether, including Turkey and Germany, which host large Syrian refugee populations.

In the last multi-candidate poll in 2014, Syria’s first in nearly 50 years, Assad won with 88 percent of the vote.