Q: Why care about this election?
A: Despite the foregone conclusion, the vote is an important inflection point in the conflict. Assad’s domestic and international opponents long ridiculed his confidence that he would survive in power until the end of his current term in July. His supporters see his longevity as proof that he enjoys the backing of most Syrians. His opponents attribute it to the strong support he enjoys from Russia and China, and the lack of effective international backing for the armed opposition. Either way, the vote is an indication that Assad is unlikely to exit soon, and his re-election will signal a new phase in the conflict.
Q: Who is running?
A: For the first time, Assad faces opponents, a novelty the Syrian government is advertising as a step toward democracy. But the two largely unknown candidates running against him were vetted by the government and security services. They are Hassan al-Nouri, a former government minister who made a fortune selling shoe brushes, and Maher Hajjar, a member of the tolerated Communist Party. Excluded by law from running are non-Muslims and anyone who has lived outside Syria in the past 10 years or holds a foreign passport, ruling out many opposition figures who left the country to flee persecution.
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Q: Where can Syrians vote?
A: Those who live in insurgent-held areas will be unable to vote unless they cross the front lines, a dangerous prospect given the continuing warfare and the fear of being detained and questioned. Voting will take place in government-controlled areas, including parts or all of Syria’s major cities, except for Raqqa in the northeast. Although about 6 million Syrians are displaced inside the country, officials say they can vote anywhere and do not need to return to their home districts.
Q: Can Syrians choose not to vote?
A: The government says so, but historically there has been strong pressure to take part in elections, even when Assad — or before him his father, Hafez — was the sole candidate, officially winning 97 percent of the vote or more. Rebel and opposition groups have called on Syrians to boycott the election.
Q: If the election will widely be seen abroad as illegitimate, why hold it?
A: Assad has said international opinion is irrelevant. His aim, analysts say, is to claim renewed legitimacy at home and to demonstrate that there is no need for the stalled international efforts to broker a political transition to a more inclusive government.
Q: What will happen next?
A: Assad is likely to interpret his victory as a mandate to continue crushing the insurgency by force while offering amnesty to fighters who lay down arms, without addressing broader political demands. Some Syrian officials say that political overhauls will come after the government is confident it can control the country.
Assad’s supporters see the vote as the beginning of the end of the conflict. The former U.N. mediator, Lakhdar Brahimi, and other observers have said that the decision to hold the election will only further polarize the country and prolong the war.
The New York Times