Al-Assad: The Presidency That Never Ends

The al-Assad family has ruled Syria and the Syrian Ba’ath party for 50 years. In 2000, Bashar al-Assad, son of former President Hazef al-Assad, was appointed President of Syria by means of a quick and staged election when his father passed away. The constitution, which at the time stipulated that the country’s president must have turned 40, was quickly changed to accommodate him, since Bashar al-Assad was only 34.

The Real Power Lies with al-Assad and the Ba’ath Party

Until 2012, Syria’s constitution stated that the Ba’ath party was the country’s ruling party and the presidential election was held only to confirm the people’s support for the incumbent president. Although the country’s constitution now states that the political system should be defined by political pluralism and democratic elections, Bashar al-Assad and the Ba’ath party are expected to remain in power. Syria’s parliament is dominated by the Ba’ath party and its allies, the National Progressive Front. It is theoretically possible to establish other political parties, but in practice, no political opposition is allowed. Although, according to the Constitution, the Parliament constitutes the Legislative Assembly, it has no real influence. Actual power is exercised only by the al-Assad family, the country’s security services and an economically privileged elite.

“Won” with 88.7 per cent of the Vote

Now, even if the Syrian constitution establishes the right to free and fair elections, but the elections are rigged to secure the position of power for the president and the party. In the last presidential election in 2014, Bashar al-Assad won with 88.7 per cent of the vote. Citizens living in areas outside the Syrian regime’s control were not allowed to vote. The six million citizens outside the country’s borders, about a quarter of Syria’s population, were also not allowed to vote in recent parliamentary elections. Only those who have been granted permission to leave the country have been allowed to retain their right to vote. For government employees, voting is often mandatory. They are then expected to vote for al-Assad and the Ba’ath party. Anyone who dares to vote for another option risks attracting attention from the country’s infamous security service.

The Presidency That Never Ends

According to the country’s constitution, Bashar al-Assad will remain in power until 2028. By then he will have been the country’s president for 28 years. There is no indication that he will voluntarily leave the presidency then. He will likely find ways to stay in power for even longer.

Resistance is Met with Brutal Violence

In 2011, when large-scale protests erupted in Syria demanding democratic freedom, al-Assad’s regime met the protesters with brutal and extensive violence. The UN has subsequently defined this as a crime against humanity. Since 2012, the regime has systematically attacked civilian targets such as hospitals and schools, and used chemical weapons against its own population in order to curb the opposition.

100,000 from the Opposition Have Disappeared

The brave human rights defenders who demand democracy, freedom of speech, and justice in Syria have paid a high price. Since 2011, about 100,000 people connected to the opposition have disappeared because of their own activism, their family members’ activism, or for simply being perceived as belonging to the opposition.

Support Those Brave Enough to Resist

Together with the organisations Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Speech, Syrian Center for Legal Studies and Research, ECCHR and nine torture survivors, we filed a criminal complaint to the Swedish Police’s War Crime Unit, against 25 high-ranking members of al-Assad’s regime. The complaint concerns crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture, and other serious crimes committed in prisons around Syria. Justice and the possibility for people to hold their leaders accountable are central to a democracy. That is why we work to ensure that those in power are held accountable for their crimes. With your support, we can continue this important work.

Read more about this year’s campaign here.

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Civil Rights Defenders defends people’s civil and political rights and support human rights defenders at risk. We work in some of the world’s most repressive regions on four continents, and in Sweden.

Together, we ensure that people’s rights and freedoms are respected and those who violate them are held accountable. Read more about this year’s campaign here.

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