Thursday, June 19, 2014


(Filed by Mansor Puteh who was an international observer of the Syrian presidential election.)

A total of 32 representatives from 20 countries have been invited to be observers of the Syrian presidential election which also included some parliamentarians, held on June 3 that saw three candidates contesting – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Maher Hajar who is a member of the Syrian parliament and an independent candidate, Hassan Alnoori.

Much to my surprise I was invited to be a member of the international observer team to monitor the elections, and the only one invited from Malaysia.

It was such a new job for me, which I consider to be an extension of my interest in politics and matters related to the humanities and film.

It also gave the opportunity to mingle with those from other countries, including members of parliament from several countries who were also invited to observe elections here.

Most of the other participants composed of journalists and officials of anti-war and humanitarian organizations in America and the West, which are used to doing such monitoring of the elections of other countries.

Some came with some preconceived ideas of what they were going to say or do, while I had none whatsoever, having not been to Syria before, although I have been to about forty countries around the world in the course of my studies and my filmmaking activities, to attend film festivals, seminars and conferences.

I studied film at Columbia University in New York City and had just returned to the city for a visit to my alma mater early April.

And all observers were not provided with any files or notes fill in the information can be considered as an attempt to shape the thinking and perception.

It is to ensure the freedom of participants to make their own views about what they see. None offered theirs and we had to make our judgment ourselves.

The observers arrived in the city of Damascus in Syria from Beirut and Tehran flown yesterday and were immediately ushered to the VIP room at Damascus Airport where a discussion and press conference was held by the organizers and officials who I could not identify who they were.

And we were broken down into a number of observers to monitor and observe the election process in some major cities, to Aleppo, Tartus, Lattakia, Sweda, Homs, Damascus and the surrounding areas, and so on.

I was sent to Homs in mounted an American-made GMC which is bullet-proof vehicle with three others from the U.S. and India, while others were flown to the city of Aleppo is quite far from Damascus.

I was lucky to be offered to go to Homs in the north of Syria which had seen serious fighting between the government forces and the rebels who were able to wrest control of the city, only to surrender it back to the Syrian government in a deal the rebels had to agree on when they were surrounded with no exit route for them to take to save their lives.

But they had left behind many buildings that had been destroyed completely which could take years to be demolished and rebuilt so the city could regain some of its former glory and to redevelop itself into a new city altogether.

Some estimated it would cost the Syrian government some US$50 to US$60 billion to redevelop the whole section of the city.

Homs does not look like many other cities in Syria; it is large and the second largest one in the country with two million people.

Unfortunately because of the war, hundreds of millions of the people had fled to other areas in the country including to the neighboring countries including to America.

And I was fortunate to bump into some of them who were traveling in the Greyhound bus I was also traveling from New York City to Los Angeles and back last April.

But a part of it was completely destroyed which makes it look like a deserted or ghost town by itself with virtually no one living there as electric and water supply had been cut, except for the soldiers who are stationed there.

There could not be anyone living there as there is no power or water supply. I could only see some soldiers manning the streets, but it was not to prevent looting as there is nothing left for anyone to do so.

Even mosques (or masjid) and churches were not spared, and in one of the demolished churches is a polling station.

There was not even a stray cat or dog.

Syria is not yet ready to rebuild areas in the city, waiting for the right time to do it because the security situation here and the country is also uncertain yet with a range of possibilities can happen, no matter who wins the election completed.

They did not know what else could come their way, in the form of rocket attacks from somewhere.

There was the firing of two of the rockets which flew above the convoy of armored vehicles and SUVs as we were being driven from the capital city of Damascus to Homs, but fortunately, they were done by the Syrian army and not the rebels targeting an area in the outskirts of Damascus.

Of course all kinds of accusations and can be thrown by the enemy, if President Bashar al-Assad is elected by the voters, and with a high percentage.

We took almost two hours in a convoy of vehicles with the office of the Governor of Homs stopover before heading to the polling center.

And along the way, and in Damascus itself does not seem banners, banners and posters of candidates running, except the pictures and posters of Syrian President right now that looks like it has long placed there, including in all schools where most of the polling centers held.

Churches and buildings that have been destroyed by the rebels has also become the center of the votes cast.

And we have met with a few priests in the old church two speak Arabic with a French.

Although Homs also has a large number of Syrian Christians of religion but their relationship with the Muslim people remain friendly.

And rebels also do not bother with who they were and continue to destroy the churches did not care, just as mosques there.

We brought some of the polling centers where we can see the poll is quite different from what is practiced in Malaysia or any other country, especially when people can get into the crowded room.

And voters can also vote from morning until night with term expiring seven votes can be connected if there are many people who have not yet voted, to tick a blank circle below the photo of the candidate of their choice as the voting slips only have the photos of them and nothing else.

And more than that, voters can cast their ballots in Syria at any polling center and not at special centers where they live at, because it is not a parliamentary election for them to be at any particular area to vote for the person they want to go to parliament.

From what has been observed since the beginning of Syria's presidential election this time more of a poll or referendum of an election.

This is because almost all voters, who have to be eighteen years of age seemed to know who to vote for, long before the elections were held.

I could not find a person who said he wanted to vote for the other two relatively unknown candidates. Why did they bother to join in the elections, in the first place?

So it is not surprising that the results of elections made the next day, 4 June, were clear; Bashar Al-Assad won with a huge percentage of 88.7 percent with the 70 percent voter turnout.

After all, the two candidates contesting the side characters in politics in Syria, with their faces only broadcast in the pictures posted on the wall in the room to vote with their background is also unclear.

This compares with President Bashar al-Assad previously known since childhood, since his father, Hafiz al-Assad to be president and associate and ally of major western superpowers including the United States.

Shouts of 'Allah, Syria, and Bashar!' were often heard from his supporters near the polling stations especially when they realize there are among us and who were recording them where street parties were held by the ordinary citizens.

And pushing Bashar also meant pushing everything, including the struggle for independence which was led by groups such leaders first. The majority of the Syrians saw it as a betrayal of the past legacy of his late father, Hafiz Al-Assad.

So the electoral process here was not used by any party to offer rewards to the people for voting for him, so no rose petty everyday or bread-and-butter issues, as the main thing for them to remember was the plate to hold them that they wanted to be strong and not break.

And in this sense, citizens and voters in Syria have shown their maturity with no fear of personal problems and factions to be like merchandise that is peddled to any candidate or political party.

These elections also have two other opportunities; which was to give citizens or voters in Syria the chance to voice their support for the incumbent Syrian President, and also to other countries in the West that seem particularly prone to criticize Arab countries which are in turmoil that were created by outside intervention and other unfriendly or enemy governments which habitually tried to create fiction between the factions that were earlier created by them, a strategy that had worked before.

It was therefore not a surprise when the countries in the west especially the European Union (EU) had expressed their displeasure at the way the elections are held and the results that had been turned.

But what leaders in the West do not realize is that for an Arab country like Syria, what is needed is a strong leader and a party that has shown his services to liberate their country from the occupying power, and who have developed their economic level until you set it to another higher level where they can continue to progress in all fields, to ensure greater social and cultural stability which is what Syria and any other country in the Arab World needed to achieve.

They do not need new leaders to suddenly prop out from nowhere, especially from behind bushes or desert caves to declare that he had become the ‘new messiah’ for the people, and in whose leadership the country and people could prosper even more.

The truth is that they wanted to achieve this by destroying what the countries had managed to get for themselves and their people.

If you want to say, all western countries also observe this behavior when they are not given the opportunity and support to new parties, and to keep the existence of the old parties, the leaders who have been nurtured by the party system.

I have been asked from some local people, where can I meet other supporters of two candidates from Bashar, and areas where they can be said to have support.

They looked to the right and left and shook their heads. No, they said.

And they continued to sing, dance local dance called the ‘dabke’, with some firing their guns in the air above them to celebrate Bashar’s win.

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