The Electoral Game in an Authoritarian State!

What is the purpose of holding parliamentary elections or any sort of elections in authoritarian state? To deny that the state is authoritarian of course, and to be able to claim that the ruling regime does indeed represent the will of the people, that it is, therefore, legitimate. This claim to legitimacy becomes even more necessary when the state faces a crisis, especially when the crisis is directly related to the foolhardy policies enacted by the regime.

This is why the Assads could not afford to postpone the parliamentary elections and do indeed need to control their outcome more than they have ever done before. For the parliament to be elected will be the one charged with accepting the nomination of the Baath Party of Bashar for another term in office, and the Assads cannot afford a single attempt at nay-saying in this regard. Hence the attempt at limiting election spending.

For while this measure might appear reformatory at first glance, it actually comes as another measure aimed at derailing the possibility of having a truly independent candidate get himself/herself elected to the parliament. The Assads will not risk the possibility of having another Riad Seif elected at this stage. The reports that were circulated not too long to the effect that the US administration might be backing an independent candidate in the upcoming elections, as ludicrous as these claims might seem, seem to have played some role in finalizing the Assads decision in this regard.

As for regime lackeys, who will be running as impendents of course, the controls on spending will not limit their ability to maneuver at all, because, ever since the last elections, and in order to waylay truly independent candidates, regime lackeys were encouraged to run as members of lists sponsored by known businessman with clearly established regime ties, such as the list sponsored by Muhammad Hamsho back in the 2003 elections. Under the new law, each candidate can spend no more than $60,000 per his/her campaign, but when one is a member of a list that includes 10 candidates, this amount becomes $600,000 – more than enough to make an impact. The new elections regulations also includes some exceptions that undoubtedly be used to increase the budget, not by several percentage points, by several folds.

And since the people who will be monitoring all this are members of the selfsame regime, who would really bother enforce these laws, except to settle some purely internal dispute, perhaps even manufactured dispute that will be used to give the elections an aura of authenticity?

The coming elections, therefore, represent nothing more than a further consolidation of power in the hands of the Assads. Conversely, they also serve as a further erosion of the power-sharing arrangement that has prepped up the Assad regime for the last few decades. Moreover, the narrowing circle does not revolve around one figure, but several with clashing agendas and personality types. The regime, and just as its resolve to increase its controls and persist in its ways seems to be increasing, is paradoxically growing more isolated, and perhaps more fragile. These might very well be the last such elections to be conducted under the auspices of the Assads.