12 April 2014, 06:42

West might want to arm Syrian opposition ahead of elections - political scientist

West might want to arm Syrian opposition ahead of elections - political scientist

The West has announced a diplomatic boycott to Syria. Countries supporting the Syrian opposition have criticized the presidential elections, organized by Assad government, as being a "parody of democracy". That's according to the "London 11" Core Group of the Friends of Syria statement released on Thursday. Abdelwahab El-Affendi, Political Scientist at the University of Westminster, specializing in Islam, Middle East politics and Democracy, comments.

Friends of the Syrian People Group includes Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

In its statement, the group says it continues to support the efforts of Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi to mediate a political solution between both sides and calls upon the Syrian regime to cease its obstruction of the Geneva process.

He does it by clearly endorsing all elements of the Geneva Communique, which was enshrined in Security Council Resolutions and reaffirmed by the UN and the international community at the Montreux conference. The nations reiterated their own rejection of the elections and that of Brahimi, made recently.

The foreign ministers also criticized the new electoral law, adopted by the Assad regime. They described it as one having "no credibility" amid the Syrian regime's intentions to sustain his dictatorship. These elections would be conducted in the midst of a conflict, with millions of Syrians being displaced, the group noted.

They also reiterated calls for "a political solution" as a means to solve the Syrian conflict "based on the full implementation of the Geneva Communique.

So far, Syria has been divided between two coexisting governments, and both make claims to be the only true democratic government of Syria. A civil war between the two has raged since 2011 following a period of unarmed demonstrations and unrest. The international community is now expecting a third conference on Syria to take place in Geneva.

Is there any chance of the Syrian government giving in to the demands of the West not to hold elections?

It doesn’t look likely but I think the question of election as a conflict resolution mechanism must be part of wider process because election on itself that has happened previously, for example, in Yugoslavia and other countries, could actually trigger conflict, as we also have seen in Ukraine and other places. If election is held and the people do not agree on the procedures, then elections are not actually the best mechanism of resolving conflicts in this regard. You need a wider context of conflict resolution.

What are the challenges of holding elections amidst a civil war?

I think first of all the principal thing is we have to stop the shooting because if people are shooting at each other, it is very unlikely that people will be flocking to electoral posts to cast their ballots. Secondly, I think in the country like Syria where now about half the people are not living where they used to live and where the country is devastated, I think one needs first of all to assert where the voters are. Are they in Jordan now, are they in Lebanon, are they in Turkey, and how could they cast their votes if they are for example in Lebanon or in Turkey? How can we guarantee that the countries where they are being hosted are not interfering or trying to influence people to vote in a certain direction? Even more important for example, let’s suppose that a free and fair election is held and somebody other than Assad is elected, president Assad will hand power to this person, will the army agree to come under the command of that person? It is a very complicated thing because we have to resolve these issues outside the electoral post itself.

Should we expect an escalation of violence in Syria ahead of the elections?

I don’t think the parties are holding back now, so I don’t expect escalation in the sense because of the election, but because I think each side is this conflict is doing the maximum it can do under the circumstances. It most likely is going to continue as it is but this will raise a lot of questions about where the election is going to be held. Are they going to be held only in the part under control of the government, which looks more likely, and then how many people are going to take part, under what conditions and of course will they allow foreign observers? All these questions are to be examined but unfortunately the violence in Syria can not be more escalating than it is escalating now.

Do you think Assad will be reelected, and if so, how will that affect the situation in Syria and its foreign relations?

I think now it all depends on what the US will do and I think now the tension between the US and Russia over Ukraine has already pushed some people to say it is because the West has been a little bit soft on Syria, Russia is now pushing its influence in eastern Europe, so we might have to expect that at one point the West might want to for example arm the opposition in Syria at the minimum.

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