Elections were held on 19 July in regime-controlled areas of Syria, now over 70% of the country. Assad has been in power for over 20 years.
This, the third election since the start of the protests in 2011, was postponed because of Covid-19. As in all the others, there was no real opposition to Assad’s Ba’ath party. Even the opposition that is tolerated by Assad boycotts the elections.
Karam Shaar, an expert on Syria at the Middle East Institute, was quoted by Al-Jazeera just before the election results. “The al-Assad regime uses parliamentary elections to reward loyalty. This time around, warlords and militiamen are expected to gain yet more seats for their contributions to the state over the past four years.”
Former rebel areas, Eastern Ghouta and southern parts of Idlib, returned pro-Assad candidates. The rest of Idlib remains outside Assad’s control: the Turkey-Syria border area has millions of internally displaced Syrians, refugees from the fighting.
Syrians living abroad, including millions of refugees forced to leave their homes because of the fighting, could not take part in the election.
Despite the new “Caesar Act” sanctions put on Assad, the economic crisis in Syria cannot just be blamed on outside intervention. Millions of Syrians now live in dire conditions with only the hope of aid from Iran or Russia, or from a newly rekindled relationship with Saudi Arabia.
Russia is now paying some Syrian forces directly. The Fifth Corps, run by a former Free Syrian Army and at one time Nusra Front commander, is now part of a tolerated opposition in Deraa. Paid by Russia, they have assisted regime forces in fighting in Northern Syria, been allowed to govern the territory with Russian protection, and also allowed to conduct some limited protests against the Assad government.
Iran has also continued to grow its influence in Syria, with a new agreement to help strengthen the Syrian air force alongside its expanded military base south of Damascus. Thousands of Shia militiamen under Iranian command remain in Syria.