The sweeping election victory of Bashar Assad not only shows the depth and breadth of popular support for his government, but also it demands an objective interpretation of events inside Syria.
In the midst of a civil war that has seen rebel militia groups and foreign Islamist fighters occupy areas of territory around the country, polling for the recent elections was held only in government-controlled areas. Assad ran against two challengers and won with 88.7 percent, garnering 10,319,723 votes. According to Syria’s supreme constitutional court, 73.42 percent of some 15.8 million eligible voters took part in the elections.
There are many reasons to explain why Assad – though internationally condemned and characterized as a dictator – is able to conjure up mass support at the ballot box. After three years of brutal fighting that has left many areas of the country devastated, Assad is seen as the only figure that can stabilize the country and ensure a stable, secular rule that respects all minority communities.
Assad entered office in 2000 as a reformer, and is credited with ushering in economic reforms that boosted consumer spending, increased tourism, and emboldened the private sector; his government is also highly regarded for providing free education and healthcare, while heavily subsidizing other public services.
Although the fighting in Syria is known to have a sectarian dimension, Syrian society has been regarded as highly tolerant and fair towards a multitude of religious and ethnic groups, such as the Christian, Alawite, Druze and Kurdish minorities, and the majority Sunni Muslims. The recent election results are to a testament to how Assad – who belongs to the Alawite sect of Shia Islam – can still command huge support from the Sunni majority.