Was Syria’s election less of a sham than Egypt’s?

In this Syrian state news agency photo, President Bashar al-Assad casts his vote as Syrian first lady Asma Assad stands next to him at a polling station in Damascus. (SANA via AP)

The results from Syria's election were announced Wednesday, with the country's parliamentary speaker announcing that Bashar al-Assad had received about 88.7 percent of the votes cast. It had previously been announced that turnout was 73.4 percent.

There are plenty of good reasons to be skeptical of this result. Syria has been locked in a devastating civil conflict for more than three years. At least 100,000 people have died as a result of the war, and around 2.8 million people have been displaced. Few Western journalists were granted visas to cover the event, making it hard to ascertain turnout, but few expected voters in rebel-held areas of the country to turn up to an election described as a sham.

In fact, perhaps the most surprising thing about Assad's reelection is that his margin is actually rather modest – Assad had won 97 percent of the votes in 2007, although the election was uncontested. That modesty also paints Egypt's recent election in a negative light.

Egyptians gather in Tahrir Square on Tuesday to celebrate the election of former Egyptian army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to the nation's presidency. (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters)

On Tuesday, Egypt's Election Commission officially confirmed former army chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi had been elected to presidential office with nearly 97 percent of the vote. That vote, however, was plagued with low turnout (47 percent), widely interpreted as an embarrassing sign of general cynicism with the leadership of Sissi, the military leader who had deposed democratically-elected Islamist leader Mohammed Morsi in 2013 in what has widely been described as a coup.

In another embarrassing twist, Sissi's only official competition, Hamdeen Sabahi, got only 4 percent of the vote: Less than the total number of "voided ballots."

The link between these two post-Arab Spring elections hasn't been lost on observers:

Both election results seem farcical, but its important to note that their may be some truth to the numbers too.

Even if Egypt's not totally representative or inflated, there are no doubt plenty of people in Egypt who want a strong, secular leader like Sissi. And in Syria's case, Assad still has significant support, even among Syria's Sunni majority.

Adam Taylor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Originally from London, he studied at the University of Manchester and Columbia University.
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