Bashar al-Assad said voter participation in presidential elections this week where he secured a third term had sent a message to western nations that Syrians would insist on determining their own future.
In his first remarks after being announced the winner of the June 3 polls, which were dismissed by his international critics and restricted to parts of the country controlled by government forces, Assad also thanked longtime ally Iran for standing “firmly” by Syria, according to state-run television.
Assad got 10.3 million votes, or 89 percent of the total cast, parliament chief Mohamed Jihad Laham said late yesterday, according to the official news agency Sana. Almost 16 million Syrians were eligible to vote, and the country’s Supreme Court said turnout was 73 percent. Two other candidates ran against Assad in a country ravaged by civil war for more than three years.
Celebratory gunfire after Assad was declared the victor killed at least 10 people, including a child, and wounded more than 200 in provinces across Syria, the activist Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in an e-mail.
“Assad is a legitimate president and not someone who should step down,” National Reconciliation Minister Ali Haidar said in a phone interview yesterday before the results were announced. “The West will have to deal with him.”
The U.S. and its European and Arab allies are supporting the rebels fighting to oust Assad, and have also backed diplomatic efforts to remove him. Talks brokered by the United Nations earlier this year stalled over the question of the president’s future, with opposition groups demanding a transitional government without Assad.
The U.S. dropped plans for a military strike on Syria in September last year after Assad agreed to give up his chemical arsenal.
Secretary of State John Kerry, who arrived in neighboring Lebanon yesterday on an unscheduled visit, said the election in Syria was “meaningless.”
“You can’t have an election where millions of your people don’t even have an ability to vote, where they don’t have an ability to contest the election and they have no choice,” Kerry told reporters at a press conference.
Syria’s civil war, which began after the government sought to crush protests in March 2011, has killed more than 162,000 people and displaced millions more, according to the U.K.-based rights Observatory.
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alaa Shahine at firstname.lastname@example.org Mark Williams, Ben Holland