Incoherent strategy

one dated July 30, 2013 of Maher Abdel Hafiz Hajjar (L), a second one dated January 20, 2014 of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (C) during an interview at the presidential palace and a handout photo (SANA) dated April 3, 2012, of ex-MP and former secretary of state for administrative development, Hassan Abdallah al-Nuri (R) during a press conference. (AFP PHOTO / STR / JOSEPH EID / SANA)

The Syrian authorities spent the weekend finalizing the field for next month’s presidential election, with President Bashar Assad and two contenders set to take part.

The opposition and its backers abroad have had a field day with the issue, as they criticize the regime’s decision to press ahead with the poll at a time in which major cities are reeling from devastation, and as a third of the population suffers from internal or external displacement.

Opposition supporters have been busy issuing cries of anguish and blasts of sarcasm at the entire process, which is their right. But they should also be clear-headed enough to read the political winds: The regime is fully prepared to continue with the election because it is determined to arm Assad with another seven-year term, and then stand fast with the argument that Assad and his team will be the legitimate rulers of Syria until 2021.

Opponents of Assad both inside and outside the country have claimed that the election will derail the Geneva process of negotiating an end to the war. But despite all of the problems with Geneva, the self-professed opponents of Assad have yet to produce an alternative to Geneva, such as serious pressure on the regime politically and militarily, that will bring about change.

Like it or not, they must deal with the fact that Assad will spare no opportunity to talk about how he is a popularly elected president, based on a “new” constitution that for the first time allows multi-candidate competition. Do they have a political strategy to counter such an argument, whether it is made in Geneva or elsewhere?

The less time that they spend criticizing the election and the more time they spend on crafting a new policy, the better.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 05, 2014, on page 7.




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