The Syrian election has indirectly exposed or confirmed a surprising statistic that shows how badly the anti-Assad fighters are losing and how hopeless their cause is.
It is of course no surprise at all that Assad won big in the first open and contested Syrian presidential election in memory, winning 88% of the total. Whether you believe that the vote was rigged or that the Syrian people overwhelmingly love their president, the margin was almost embarrassing. During the days before the election, the Syrian street began joking that the votes of the challengers might need to be padded.
The surprise was the total number of votes cast. According to the Syrian National Presidential Commission, a total of 15.84 million Syrians age 18 or older were eligible to vote in the election. Of these, 11.63 million – equal to 73.7% – actually did.
That’s an enviable turnout anywhere, but astonishing under the current conditions in Syria. The Syrian obsession to vote is a great story. Syrian expatriates and refugees besieged their embassies when they could and returned to Syria – sometimes across ten time zones – when they couldn’t. But that also is not the surprise.
The surprise is not who voted or how many, but rather who did not. They are the 4.2 million difference between the numbers of eligible and actual voters. Who are they?
Many are living in other countries. Some are refugees, for whom the lowest accepted estimate is 2.5 million. If we add another conservative number of dual national Syrian expatriates, it rises to 3.1 million. Even with the incredible voting efforts of this population, however, that figure shrinks by only 200,000, to 2.9 million.
This accounts for all but 1.3 million of the Syrians who didn’t vote. It is not reasonable to expect that all Syrians who had the chance actually voted. We have to allow at least 5% or 790,000 for the one in twenty that decided not to vote, for whatever reason. This leaves a maximum of only a half million Syrians – around 3% – in captive areas. It is probably less than that.
This is of course an educated (if conservative) guess. However, it safely puts to rest the inflated estimates of 40% propagated by mainstream journalists and deceitful government officials. Those figures were obtained by applying pre-conflict population statistics to the geographic areas under the control of anti-regime groups, a patently absurd formula.
Such figures are a fantasy conceived for the purpose of deception and distortion. Vast numbers of Syrians have fled anti-regime areas, mostly to government territory, but also to other countries. However, only the most delusional propagandist would claim that meaningful numbers of Syrians are fleeing to anti-regime areas.
In fact, one of the tactics of the Syrian military seems to be to allow the anti-regimists to hold a territory long enough to drive the civilians out, and then to either negotiate terms or remove them by means of weapons that cause the fewest government casualties. This is what earns the regime the title of ruthless murderer in western hyperbole.
It is time to pay attention to what the Syrian people are saying. When they went to the polls by the millions, they did much more than affirm their self-determination and their choice for president. They showed us by their numbers that the attempt to destroy Syria is bankrupt and doomed to failure.
Paul Larudee is a founding member of the Syria Solidarity Movement. He submitted this piece from Syria after completing an assignment as an election observer.