BEIRUT — Fireworks and celebratory gunfire erupted in parts of Syria and Lebanon on Wednesday in response to the news that President Bashar al-Assad had won reelection in Syria with 88.7 percent of the vote.
The outcome of the vote did not come as a surprise and, in the absence of independent monitors or observers, was impossible to verify. But it gave Assad a third seven-year mandate to rule Syria, even as the rebellion against him rages on in many parts of the country.
Two carefully vetted opponents ran against Assad but were never considered serious contenders.
On a rare, unannounced visit to Lebanon, Secretary of State John F. Kerry declared the election “meaningless” and said it would have no impact on U.S. policy.
“The elections are non-elections. A great big zero,” he said, noting that many areas of the country did not vote, because they are under rebel control, and that meaningful opposition contenders were not allowed to participate.
“Nothing has changed between the day before the election and after,” he added.
Speaking after meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam, Kerry said his visit was chiefly motivated by Lebanon’s failure to agree on a candidate for president who is acceptable to all factions. Lebanon has been without a president for the past 10 days because of disputes over who should fill the post.
The war in neighboring Syria has had a profound impact on Lebanon, which is struggling to cope with an influx of more than 1 million refugees, according to the U.N. refugee agency. The war has also split Lebanon into pro- and anti-Assad camps, threatening the country’s fragile stability.
The dispute over Lebanon’s presidency is only tangentially rooted in the Syria conflict and has more to do with the stubborn personalities of some of the contenders, diplomats in Beirut say.
But Kerry pointed out that not having a president further weakens Lebanon at a time when it is also threatened by the tensions spilling over from the Syrian war.
“The current political stalemate is deeply troubling,” he said. “A secure and stable Lebanon is a prerequisite for a secure and stable region.”
At a rushed news conference, Kerry did not address critical remarks by the recently resigned U.S. ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, who on Tuesday told two news organizations that he quit because U.S. policy in Syria is failing.
Ford said the Obama administration should have done more to help moderate rebels sooner, to avert a situation in which Assad prevails in Damascus while extremists put down roots in areas beyond government control. He said he could no longer defend the existing policy, which consists of doing as little as possible to help the rebels while claiming that they are being helped.
Kerry said at the news conference that the United States continues to support a political solution to the Syrian crisis and announced a new contribution of $290 million in humanitarian aid, which will bring the U.S. contribution to the international effort to aid Syrians to $2 billion.
That makes the United States the largest single contributor of humanitarian aid to Syrians, he said. “I am proud the United States of America is leading the charge,” he added.