BEIRUT: As President Bashar Assad’s re-election campaign was officially launched Sunday, with billboards erected in the capital and promotional spots being broadcast on state television, opposition activists were busy launching a counteroffensive.
Unable to feasibly launch a ground campaign in regime-controlled areas whether due to logistics or fear of arrest, the anti-Assad campaign is being fought online, under the slogan #BloodElections.
Assad is virtually guaranteed to win the election, to be held June 3, despite facing other candidates for the first time. In the last presidential election, held in 2007 as a referendum, Assad won over 97 percent of the vote.
But irrespective of the inevitability of the outcome, it is vital to highlight the illegitimacy of the election, according to Susan Ahmad, a Gulf-based activist and journalist who is coordinating the #BloodElections campaign. “How can one elect a criminal who killed his own people with all types of weapons, including chemical arms, and reappoint him as a head of state instead of sending him to the International Criminal Court?” she said via Skype.
Thus, the campaign seeks to highlight what the opposition labels a sham election, encouraging supporters to urge their governments, wherever they are in the world, to denounce the poll and to stress the myriad crimes allegedly carried out by the regime in Damascus.
The organizers are working with Syrian communities across the world to organize protests in front of embassies, using the slogan #BloodElections: one such event was held in front of the Russian Embassy in Turkey earlier this week.
As of Monday, the #BloodElections group on Facebook had over 36,000 likes, up 11,000 from a day earlier, and hundreds of people across the world were tweeting using the hashtag.
Supporters are also using an image of a barrel bomb turned ballot box, overflowing with blood, as their profile picture. Organizers hope that the slogan of this Friday’s protests across Syria – a different one is chosen each week – will be #BloodElections.
Military analyst Jeffrey White (@JeffWhite) tweeted, “# Syria #BloodElections In Assad’s Syria the ballots will grow out of the barrels of his guns.” User @nanoushxOx summarized how she sees the electoral process: “In # Syria you have two options: vote for Bashar, or vote against and basically volunteer for your own death #BloodElections.”
“As Assad runs for presidency, Syrians in #Aleppo run for their lives! #BloodElections” tweeted @OmarJaabari, who attached a photo of civilians allegedly running from barrel bombs in the northern city.
But while the campaign is very unlikely to change the outcome of the election, it is still important for the world to pay attention to what is happening on the ground in Syria, the organizers said.
Abbas Qabbani, another of the organizers, said that the purpose of the campaign was to, “to emotionally move people; whether Western people or Arabs ... and put pressure on their governments to help [us] stand against Assad’s election.”
Ahmad, the coordinator of the campaign, blames the international community for staying silent in the face of the regime’s crimes. “The regime is carrying on with its election plan and the world is seeing that and [yet] remains silent,” she said.
The U.N. and countries backing the Syrian opposition have denounced the upcoming election as a farce, and have said the vote detracts from the “political process” of reaching a negotiated solution to the conflict.
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon and envoy for the Syria crisis, Lakhar Brahimi have said the election will hamper prospects for a “political solution that the country so urgently needs.”
The activists, meanwhile, insist on trying to delegitimize the election, and drive home the message that the regime should be facing a tribunal and not organizing a vote count.
“The world turned a blind eye to the killing of one thousand [people] within hours of a chemical attack, and hundreds of people killed by barrel bombs ... and hundreds of thousands of prisoners, and yet it still gives the regime the green light,” Ahmad added.
“Nevertheless,” she added, “this campaign is to remind the world and promote the fact that what’s happening in Syria constitutes crimes that history will remember for centuries, and that whatever the election results are, the election will remain illegitimate and unacceptable.”
The opposition-in-exile umbrella group National Coalition, is using both #BloodElections and the slogan #WouldYouVoteForAssad to highlight the regime’s crimes.
Other social media users are using the official Assad campaign slogan – #sawa, meaning “together” – against him: “#BloodElections #Sawa to oust #Assad,” tweeted @EagleSyrian1.
While these campaigns are running from now until the elections, they are part of a wider aim of documenting what is taking place, according to Yazan, an assistant to the campaign.
“Our main goal is to eliminate tyranny in a peaceful manner and try to create democracy in our country and of course we will reach that goal,” he said.
“And even though we all know that Bashar will celebrate [his] victory before the results are even announced, not with fireworks but rather with barrel bombs falling on the heads of our children, we are at a stage where we are recording history. And I hope the day will come when we will record a line about victory over that tyrannical criminal.”