Belarusian observers arrive to monitor 'fake' Syrian presidential elections amid voter intimidation
Observers from Belarus were due to arrive in Syria on Sunday to monitor presidential elections widely condemned as "fake" by the international community, amid reports that Syrians were being intimidated and pressured by the Assad regime to take part in voting.
The Syrian regime’s news agency SANA said that the delegation would be made up of members of the Belarusian parliament and election specialists.
Voting is due to begin on Wednesday. Syria’s dictator Bashar al-Assad, who came to power after the death of his father Hafez in 2000, is almost certain to win. He is running against two candidates who were little known before the current election campaign.
Syria’s exiled opposition is not taking part and does not recognise the elections.
In previous presidential elections in 2014, Assad won nearly 90% of the vote against candidates who expressed loyalty to him.
The US, UK, and France have all said that they will reject the results of the upcoming elections, pointing out that they were be held "under the sole control of the [Assad] regime" without transparency, and that millions of Syrian refugees abroad would not be able to participate.
The Assad regime had previously invited observers from "friendly and brotherly countries" including Russia, Iran, and China, as well as Belarus to monitor the elections.
Belarus, a former Soviet republic, is often described as "Europe’s last dictatorship".
Its president, Alexander Lukashenko, has reportedly given military aid to the Assad regime over the course of Syrian's conflict, which broke out in 2011 after the brutal suppression of pro-democracy protests.
In 2020, Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, won over 80% of the vote in a presidential election, which was widely decried as fraudulent and followed by protests which were violently suppressed.
The Assad regime has organised a number of celebratory events in the run-up to the elections, while regime media have dedicated most of their coverage to the elections recently.
Pro-regime militias have also forced people to attend pre-election festivals in Aleppo and other cities, at the same time charging them five to ten dollars for entry.
Syria is in the midst of an economic crisis as a result of the conflict which broke out in 2011, with 80% of people living in poverty and the national currency collapsing in value.
In some Syrian provinces under regime control, however, there were signs of popular resistance as the elections approached.
In the southern province of Suweida, a number of posters of Assad were defaced as the regime’s prime minister, Hussein Arnous, visited the area on Sunday.
In the neighbouring province of Daraa, which has been restive ever since reverting from rebel to regime control in 2018, posters appeared on walls calling on people to boycott the elections, carrying slogans such as "No elections for the criminal of Syria", in reference to Assad.