A propaganda poster featuring Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad. Elections in Syria are widely considered to be a sham. Photo credit: Flickr/Watchsmart (CC BY 2.0)
Freedom House Rating
Presidential Republic; highly authoritarian regime
May 26, 2021
April-July 2024 (due)
July 19, 2020
September 16, 2018
June 3, 2014
Syria is due to hold a presidential election between April 16 and May 16, 2021.
The election comes in the context of Syria’s ongoing civil war and humanitarian crisis. Elections under the regime of Bashar al-Assad are widely considered to be a sham. Assad has been in power since 2000 after succeeding his father, Hafez al-Assad, who came to power in 1970.
Syria’s constitutional court has approved two other candidates to appear on the ballot alongside Assad: former deputy cabinet minister Abdallah Saloum Abdallah and Mahmoud Ahmed Marei, who runs an officially-sanctioned opposition party. Neither figure is well known. A total of 51 candidates applied to run, including one woman, Faten Ali Nahar, who was was the first female potential candidate to apply to run for president, but her candidacy was rejected. A 10-year residency requirement excluded any actual opposition activists who had spent time abroad from running.
Syrian opposition groups have urged the international community to reject the elections.
Assad’s Ba’ath Party dominated the 2020 parliamentary elections, which the opposition boycotted and rejected.
A number of international powers are involved in Syria’s civil war. Dr. Anna Borshchevskaya notes: “Syria is the epicenter of Kremlin activity, which Putin uses as a springboard to project power throughout the region and Europe and Africa. Nothing makes as clear a statement about Moscow’s interests as the recent unveiling of a monument to the patron saint of the Russian army, Prince Alexander Nevsky, at the Russian Khmeimim airbase in Syria. This demonstrates Russian commitment on a symbolic as well as practical level.”
Ali Slimi, Foreign Brief (May 11, 2021): Campaigning for Syrian presidential elections to begin
Mary Harris, Slate (May 10, 2021): Ten Years of Civil War in Syria
Reuters (May 3, 2021): Syrian court selects two candidates to appear on ballot against Assad
James Reinl, The National UAE (April 28, 2021): Syria’s election breaches UN rules, says envoy
Al Jazeera (April 27, 2021): Fearing reprisals, Syrian refugees wary to vote in election
Anna Borshchevskaya, Raed Wajeeh, Daniel Rakov, and Li-Chen Sim, April 21, 2021: Russia in the Middle East: A source of stability or a pot-stirrer?
Sarah El Deeb, AP (April 20, 2021): First woman ever applies to run for president of Syria
The Guardian (April 16, 2021): The ‘doctor’ keeps watch: Assad posters loom over shattered Syria – in pictures
Enab Baladi (March 30, 2021): Borrell to Enab Baladi: Presidential elections will not lead to international normalization with Damascus
George Baghdadi, CBS News (March 15, 2021): Why Syria’s civil war is still a “living nightmare” after 10 years
Liz Sly, Washington Post (March 4, 2021): He told the world about his brutal torture in Syria. Then, mysteriously, he went back.
Diana Rahima, Enab Baladi (February 24, 2021): Would Syrians never have an Alexei Navalny of their own?
AP (January 29, 2021): Geneva talks on new Syrian constitution end without progress
Daily Sabah (January 20, 2021): Syrian opposition refutes ‘illegitimate’ presidential elections
Sultan al-Kanj, Al-Monitor (December 8, 2020): Syrian opposition retracts decision on electoral committee
Daily Sabah/Andalou Agency (December 6, 2020): Syrian opposition plans to start writing constitution in 5th round of Geneva talks
Louay Rhebani, Enab Baladi (November 25, 2020): Is formation of Election Commission by opposition SNC an attempt to gain legitimacy or legitimize al-Assad regime?
The Economist (September 26, 2020): Victory for Bashar al-Assad has meant more suffering for his people
Jomana Qaddour and Danny al-Baaj, Atlantic Council (July 30, 2020): Syria’s inconsequential 2021 presidential elections must be ignored
Anand Gopal, The New Yorker (December 3, 2018): Syria’s Last Bastion of Freedom
Reva Goujon, Stratfor (August 4, 2015): The Geopolitics of the Syrian Civil War
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Updated May 11, 2021