In March 2021, Syria marked its 10th year of the conflict. For the second time during this conflict, the country is holding a general presidential election amidst international condemnation and denouncement over freedom and transparency of these elections. But what do Syrians think of these elections and what do they think the way to stability looks like?
In a national representative survey conducted by ORB International in March 2021 among 1,076 Syrians, more than half (53%) said they would leave Syria now if they had the chance, a figure that is not so surprising considering the economic, social, and political turmoil in the country.
ORB asked Syrians about what they think are the most critical steps to be taken to restore stability in their country: holding war criminals accountable came out on top with 3 in 4 (76%) saying it is the main priority, judiciary reform was mentioned by 70% of those surveyed, followed by securing a dignified and voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced persons (68%) – none of which has been achieved at the time of the elections.
However, Syrians still have hope for a peaceful future and demonstrate a remarkable sense of unity after years of war. In another national representative survey conducted by ORB in Syria in 2019 with 3,024 respondents, 4 in 5 (83%) said they agree that there is more that unites Syrians than divides them. And a similar proportion said that, despite the war, they believe there will be a united Syria in the future with its traditional boundaries intact.
So, what is the way out?
Since we started polling in 2013, the desire for free and fair elections has also been seen as the one of the best ways out of the conflict. In March 2021, more than one third of Syrians (37%) said they believe that the best form of governance for Syria to put an end to the conflict would be a government chosen by the people through democratic and fair elections: 1 in 5 (20%) said these elections must be held under international supervision.
Syrian President Bashar Al Assad seems to have taken these views into account, as on 26 May 2021, his government went ahead and conducted elections that they claim to be democratic and fair. Moreover, these elections were even carried out under “international supervision”. However, monitors were invited from those bastions of democracy such Russia, Belarus, Cuba and Venezuela! Forbidding those who live outside of regime controlled Syria to vote also somewhat offers the incumbent an advantage.
In the days leading up to polling data, ORB conducted short interviews with Syrians in different locations around the country asking them whether they have participated and how they felt about the elections.
A quick look at the interviews shows that these elections are far from normal and certainly would struggle to be considered free and fair contests.
Ahmed, 42-year-old, working as a civil servant in Hama, says “I am voting, yes… we all have to vote, it is not a choice, I need to vote to avoid security reports!”
Huda, 26 and works as an employee for a public sector company in Tartous, says “During working hours they collect our IDs, voting is mandatory, I voted for him because there is no alternative”.
Huda’s story seems to check out, especially after videos circulated on social media show what seems to be an official employee collecting IDs and choosing the candidate before handing the ballots back to citizens to cast in the boxes
Marwa, a 55-year-old housewife from Deir Ezzor was very clear on her position and her reasons: “I will not participate, he killed two of my children! Why would I go to vote for him?”
Mahmoud from Raqqa is a 20-year-old student: “Yes, I voted, simply because I cannot sit my exams in the regime areas if I do not!” Teachers tell stories of not being allowed back to their jobs without voting for the regime.
Nonetheless, many in Syria seem to be keen on showing support for Assad who, they see, has won the war against the conspiracies schemed by his international and local adversaries.
Sami, 60-year-old, working as an employee for a public sector company in Damascus, says “I am voting, yes, he handled all sorts of conspiracies, he is the best choice to lead the country”.
Mohamed, 30, a private business owner from Tartous, says “I am voting to stand against the conspiracy, to show the international community that we do not care whether they acknowledge the elections or not!”.
The Syrian elections went ahead on May 26th and Al Assad won his 4th term with 95% of vote in a country where almost half of its citizens live below poverty line, with more than 6.7 million internally displaced, 6.6 million sought refuge outside the country .
ORB International is a small business operating in 115 countries around the world providing monitoring and evaluation, nationally representative surveys, rapid assessments and specialised research in complex environments. Utilising a data-centric and quality-first model, our primary focus is mixed-methods social and political research including the topics of counter-violent-extremism, governance, and working with vulnerable populations.