Conflict & Justice

Why some Syrians see their vote as a choice between barking dogs and baying wolves

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Credit: Zoubeir Souissi / Reuters

Syrians voted on Tuesday in an election expected to deliver an overwhelming victory for President Bashar al-Assad but which his opponents have dismissed as a charade.

The low-flying jets that buzzed Damascus Tuesday morning - jolting many residents from their beds - were not a 'get-out-the-vote' effort. 

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The deafening warplanes flew menacingly close to the city, according to Syrian military officials, to deter rebels from fulfilling their pledge to fire mortar shells and rockets on election day as Syria's President Bashar al-Assad sought a third seven-year term. 

The jets weren't entirely effective. Rebel rockets still landed in the city Tuesday. Perhaps that’s the price to pay for holding a presidential vote in the middle of a civil war. Critics called Tuesday's vote a farce. There were two other candidates besides Assad, but the sitting president is expected to claim an easy victory.

A Syrian journalist who for security reasons is using only her first name, Rasha, says many residents of the capital were afraid to leave their homes in the morning because of rumors of attacks and car bombs. But she says around noon, voters started to venture out.

She talked to one middle-aged man who said he'd voted for President Assad and he used an analogy to describe his rationale. 

"He basically said you have a dog that keeps barking. And you have wolves that come around and want to eat the dog and want to eat you. Who do you root for - the dog that barks or the wolves that are gonna eat you? So the rebels are the wolves, and the dog is Assad and that that's who he's voting for," she said. 

Rasha says many Syrians who were opposed to the government voted for fear of retribution. 

"A lot of them feel that if they don't vote they will be flagged somehow, that the authorities will be able to know that they didn't vote because their name won't be in some computer in the sky and they'll be stopped at some checkpoints," she says. 

Rasha notes that many Syrians worry that they - and especially their military-aged children - will be subject to harassment and arrest if they stay home from the polls. Refugees in places like Lebanon, she says, think they might be blacklisted and be unable to return home if they didn't vote. 

But other Syrians are clearly voting out of passion for Assad - a passion, election workers say - that is evident at the polls in an unusual practice. 

"They said some voters came with their own needle to prick their finger if they wanted to make a statement and vote for Assad with their blood," she says. "But I haven't met anyone who's done it and I don't think a lot of people are doing it."

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