Media Distortions on the Syrian Elections
US Secretary of State Kerry has pronounced the Syrian election to be a “farce”. As if on cue, National Public Radio, Associated Press, ABC and other western media have presented stories which support that claim. A closer look reveals the media has been exaggerating, distorting and lying about the Syrian elections.
Following are a few examples from the past few days.
Example 1. “Thousands Flee before Syrian Elections” by Bassem Mroue, AP
On Saturday May 31 Associated Press distributed a story claiming that thousands of Syrian civilians have “fled government-held Syrian cities”. In my local newspaper there is an accompanying photo showing youth on a truck, photographed from behind. The impression to the casual viewer will be that these are some of the people fleeing. But the reality is the opposite: the photo shows youth enthusiastically encouraging voting in the election and flashing peace signs. Far from “fleeing”, they are driving around town expressing their enthusiasm for the election.
Where is the evidence to back up the AP claim? It’s all “according to opposition activists”. That’s it, no other evidence.
Contrary to the claim of this AP story, many people are flooding INTO Syria to vote in the election. There are Syrians flying from all over the globe to return home to vote. There are dozens of Syrian Americans from southern California flying there to vote.
Example 2. “How Fair can a Vote be in a War Zone?” , Frederick Pleitgen, CNN
This CNN story reports that opposition and Western countries “say it’s impossible to hold a vote when rebels are holding much of the north and east of the country. And they say the election won’t be free or fair, that it will be rigged and Assad declared the winner.” The CNN story fails to include such relevant information as:
a) Elections have recently been held in Afghanistan, Iraq and Ukraine where there are also conflicts and areas beyond the government control. The response of the US was not to dismiss the election but to congratulate the government and people!
b) The US held its 1864 election in the midst of the US Civil War.
As to the final claim about election rigging, that is simple propaganda without evidence. Perhaps CNN does not refer to polling or surveys because credible polls , including those contracted by Doha Qatar and NATO, have consistently shown Assad having wide support.
Example 3. “Syria Election: Experts Weigh In” Voice of America , Cecily Hilleary, June 2, 2014
In this VOA report the “experts” have clearly been selected with bias. Only one of the eight is not vehemently anti-Assad. The “experts” proceed to voice all sorts of nonsense. For example Zaher Sahloul says the Syrian government is “targeting the healthcare system”. For a reality check interested readers can view the video of rebels blowing up of the Kindi Hospital in Aleppo. To the cries of Alahu Akhbar we see the truck slowly drive up the road and then blow up the new hospital which was to be a model for Syria. Sahloul continues as follows: “Syrians who are lucky enough to stay alive or be spared from displacement will have no choice but to vote and vote frequently for the ‘exceptional’ leader”. This is untrue. There is no requirement to vote, nor is there any way to determine how a person votes if they do. It’s a secret ballot. Sahloul’s claim is part of the stream of false rumors and claims, assertions without evidence.
Example 4. “Five Things to Know about Tuesday’s Election in Syria“, ABC News, by Zeina Karam AP
According to this article “The election is an indication the civil war is likely to last a long time.” On the contrary, if the election confirms that the Syrian government has significant popular support, it will further undermine the credibility of the armed opposition and lead to ENDING the armed conflict. That, of course, is what they are worried about.
Another claim in this article is that “The so-called internal Syrian opposition groups … are also boycotting.” This is not true. The non-violent opposition parties and groups are actively participating in the election.
The article further claims that “About 2.5 million Syrian refugees are scattered across neighboring countries. Most of them have been either excluded or are boycotting the balloting.” This is not true. Those refugees who crossed the border into Lebanon or Jordan with passports stamped had their voting day last Wednesday May 28. The turnout of Syrians in exile was huge, greatly exceeding the expectations.
Those refugees who fled across the border over the past few years and only have their national ID card, were expected to vote at polling stations on the Syrian side of the border on election day June 3.
However in the wake of the massive turnout last Wednesday, the US allied Lebanese “Future Movement” has in the last 48 hours enacted a new law which will PREVENT Syrian refugees from voting on Tuesday! The law will not allow the refugees to return to their camp if they cross over into Syria to vote. It’s the Lebanese government, not the Syrian government, which is excluding the vote of Syrian refugees.
In summary, Syrian citizens abroad are not being allowed to vote in countries like USA and Canada where the Syrian Embassies have been shut down. They are not being allowed to vote in European countries such as Germany, Belgium and France where the host countries have prohibited voting. And now the refugees in Lebanon are not being allowed to cross into Syria to vote. The claims of the article are untrue. It’s the western powers and their allies who are preventing Syrians from voting.
WHAT IS AT STAKE
John Kerry and those seeking regime change in Damascus know the significance of the Syrian elections. That’s why Kerry has been so crude and forceful in his denunciation. The media, as in the past, has fallen into line and failed to report objectively.
The Syrian people, both those in the country and those abroad, also know the meaning of the election. That’s why they went in massive numbers in Beirut. That’s why Syrians have traveled from many countries around the globe, going to vote in their homeland. And that’s why it will be interesting to see how many boycott the election in Syria vs. how many vote. One thing is clear: We won’t find out from the mainstream media or their followers.
Rick Sterling is a founding member of Syria Solidarity Movement. He was in Damascus, Latakia and Homs in April with the International Peace Pilgrimage. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org