Title

× Close
Syrian elections

In Delhi's Vasant Vihar, 750 Syrians line up to vote in an election denounced by critics as a farce

It's a sham designed to provide a figleaf of legitimacy for President Assad, critics claim. But Syrian voters in Delhi beg to disagree.

On Thursday, as India’s new cabinet marked its second day in office, another national election was conducted in Delhi’s neighbourhood of Vasant Vihar. Around 750 Syrians living in India – mainly businessmen and students – streamed into their embassy to participate in an exercise that is being described as their country’s first democratic election.

The walls behind the gates were lined with Syrian flags and large posters of President Bashar Al Assad, who is seeking a third seven-year term in office. The polling took place from 7 am to 7 pm. Voters lined up to cast their ballots in a large plastic bin. Traditional tea, orange juice and pistachio-filled sweets were being distributed.

On the face of it, this was a joyous exercise, as vibrant as India’s recently concluded celebration of democracy. But as the first phase of the Syrian election got underway at 43 embassies around the world, several countries, including France, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, banned Syrians from voting in their territories. They have denounced the elections as a sham that seeks to reinstate Assad as a legitimate state ruler, even as his rivals, aided by foreign powers, are fighting a civil war to remove him from office for using chemical weapons and allegedly committing mass atrocities against civilians.

The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the elections were “incompatible” with talks that seek a peaceful political transition in Syria. However, the government in Damascus has said the elections are the best way to ensure a political solution to the conflict, which began three years ago with the demand to end to the autocratic rule of Assad family, which has been in power since 1963.

It's genuine, says authorities

Until now, Syria has held only referendums, with a single candidate on the ballot. Voters had a choice of saying yes or no to this choice. But an amendment to the constitution in 2011 requires the polls to be contested by more than one candidate. As a result, the ballot papers used in Delhi included photographs of three candidates: in addition to Assad, there were images of Hassan el-Nuri and Maher al-Najjar, both little-known MPs.

Despite this, many have dismissed the election as a farce. The rules require candidates to have lived in Syria for the last ten years, thus disqualifying most of the key opposition figures, who live in exile to ensure their security. Besides, polling will also take place only in areas of Syria controlled by the regime, leaving out large territories still under control of rebel groups.

Syria's Ambassador to India, Riad Abbas, told Scroll.in that countries that claim the elections are undemocratic are opposing the will of the Syrian people and curtailing their aspirations. “Those who are not allowing elections, they are showing their real face that they are against democracy,” Abbas said. “Why are they stopping Syrian people from expressing their opinion? They are afraid because they are aware that all the people will be selecting and voting Assad because they want him to be in power and on Syrian ground.’’

India has maintained that any solution for the crisis in Syria needs to come from within the country and has opposed any military intervention.

Assad is crowd favourite

In Vasant Vihar, it was clear that Assad was the overwhelming favourite. “No matter how many candidates stand, we will vote for the one we believe will lead us to victory,” said Betoul Khoja, president of the Syrian Students Union. “And we believe in Assad.”

Fahad Khoudary, a businessman from Aleppo who immigrated to Jordan because of the war, was in India on a three-day trip but found the time to drop by the embassy on Wednesday evening to vote for Assad. “Other countries internationally don’t want Assad but we Syrians want him,” he said. “He will put an end to this fighting. He will bring peace.”

Sentiments like these only seemed to reiterate the fears of the international community that only supporters of the regime would participate in the elections, lending it little credibility.

Groups of students and Assad supporters came to vote wearing t-shirts bearing the President’s image. "Assad is our hero. He will win this war,’’ said the President’s namesake Bshar Bdoor, student of Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi.

Most of these young student voters said the opposition in Syria and the protests were being sponsored by foreign countries that aimed to install a compliant leadership that would allow them to secure Syria’s oil and energy resources. “We don’t want democracy from a country like US which has destroyed Iraq, which attacked Libya and now wants to enter Syria,” said Hasan Awwad student who came from the neighbouring Punjab state to vote for the elections in Delhi.

If Assad is removed from power, the students said, Syria will be divided. Its secular fabric consisting of the ruling minority Alawite sect (which Assad belongs to), Christians, Druze along with Sunni Muslims will be shredded along religious lines. Tamam Mohamad, from the Tartous region, who is now studying Linguistics at the JNU, said that if Assad goes, Syria will become like Iraq and Libya. “We can’t imagine Assad leaving power and throwing open Syria to all these militias,” he said.

Civil war

At present, Assad’s Shia regime is supported by Iran and by Lebanon’s Hezbollah group. Opposing him are various Sunni rebel factions funded, among others, by Saudi Arabia. The war between Shias and Sunnis has turned Syria into a playground for global jihadis groups. Currently, nationals of 38 foreign countries, including Britain, France, Iraq and Morocco, are fighting in Syria. Some of the groups want to turn Syria into a radical Islamic state.

“The most dangerous terrorists are currently fighting in Syria,” said Awwad. “How can we talk about democracy when the country is at war? The priority now is to fight this terror and stop the war. Despite opposition and militants fighting from all sides, we believe in Assad and we want him to remain in power.”

The fight to control Syria has led to deaths of over 162,000 people. It has also resulted in a terrible humanitarian crisis, with over 5,000 civilians fleeing the war-ravaged country every day to seek refuge in neighbouring Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and even in Europe. Until now, more than nine million people have been displaced within the country and over 2.5 million have fled, making this the largest human flight since the Rwanda genocide in 1992.

None of that was evident in Vasant Vihar, as officials packed away the votes in a sealed envelope in the evening, to be counted ahead of the June 3 election. A delegation from Syria is in Delhi to monitor the voting process and will also oversee the counting of votes along with a special election committee formed by the Syrian embassy here and members of the Syrian community in India.

People who had cast their votes said that the election would put Assad in a stronger position to end the war. “We will get rid of all the terrorists,” said Khoja of the students union. "And Assad will bring this victory…This election is one step towards peace."



 
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BULLETIN BY 

Making transportation more sustainable even with fuel-based automobiles

These innovations can reduce the pollution caused by vehicles.

According to the WHO’s Ambient Air Pollution Database released in 2016, ten of the twenty most polluted cities in the world are in India, with Gwalior and Ahmedabad occupying the second and third positions. Pollution levels are usually expressed in the levels of particulate matter (PM) in the air. This refers to microscopic matter that is a mixture of smoke, metals, chemicals and dust suspended in the atmosphere that can affect human health. Particulate matter is easily inhaled, and can cause allergies and diseases such as asthma, lung cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Indian cities have some of the highest levels of PM10 (particles smaller than 10 micrometres in diameter) and PM2.5 particles (particles smaller than 2.5 micrometres in diameter). The finer the particulate matter, the deeper into your lungs it can penetrate causing more adverse effects. According to WHO, the safe limits for PM2.5 is 10 micrograms per cubic meter.

Emissions resulting from transportation is regarded as one of the major contributors to pollution levels, especially particulate matter. A study conducted by the Centre for Ecological Sciences of the Indian Institute of Science estimated that the transport sector constitutes 32% of Delhi’s emissions. It makes up 43% of Chennai’s emissions, and around 17% of Mumbai’s emissions.

Controlling emissions is a major task for cities and auto companies. The Indian government, to this end, has set emission standards for automobiles called the Bharat Stage emission standard, which mirrors European standards. This emission standard was first instituted in 1991 and has been regularly updated to follow European developments with a time lag of about 5 years. Bharat Stage IV emission norms have been the standard in 2010 in 13 major cities. To tackle air pollution that has intensified since then, the Indian government announced that Bharat Stage V norms would be skipped completely, and Stage VI norms would be adopted directly in 2020.

But sustainability in transport requires not only finding techniques to reduce the emissions from public and private transport but also developing components that are environment friendly. Car and auto component manufacturers have begun optimising products to be gentler on the environment and require lesser resources to manufacture, operate and maintain.

There are two important aspects of reducing emissions. The first is designing vehicles to consume less fuel. The second is making the emissions cleaner by reducing the toxic elements.

In auto exteriors, the focus is on developing light-weight but strong composite materials to replace metal. A McKinsey study estimates that plastic and carbon fibre can reduce weight by about 20% and 50% respectively. A lighter body reduces the engine effort and results in better fuel economy. Additionally, fuel efficiency can be increased by reducing the need for air conditioning which puts additional load on the vehicle engine thereby increasing fuel consumption. Automotive coatings (paints) and sheets provide better insulation, keep the vehicle cool and reduce the use of air conditioning.

Most emissions are the result of inefficient engines. Perhaps the most significant innovations in making automobiles and mass transport systems more eco-friendly are being done in the engine. Innovations include products like fuel additives, which improve engine performance, resist corrosion and reduce fuel consumption while offering a great driving experience, and catalytic converters that reduce toxic emissions by converting them to less harmful output such as carbon dioxide, Nitrogen and water. Some of these catalytic converters are now capable of eliminating over 90 percent of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides.

All of these are significant measures to bring the negative impacts of vehicular pollution under control. With over 2 million vehicles being produced in India in 2015 alone and the moving to BS VI emission standards, constant innovation is imperative.

Beyond this, in commercial as well as passenger vehicles, companies are innovating with components and processes to enable higher resource efficiency. Long-lasting paint coatings, made of eco-friendly materials that need to be refreshed less often are being developed. Companies are also innovating with an integrated coating process that enables carmakers to cut out an entire step of coating without compromising the colour result or the properties of the coating, saving time, materials and energy. Efforts are being made to make the interiors more sustainable. Parts like the instrument panel, dashboard, door side panels, seats, and locks can all be created with material like polyurethane plastic that is not only comfortable, durable and safe but also easily recyclable. Manufacturers are increasingly adopting polyurethane plastic like BASF’s Elastollan® for these very reasons.

From pioneering the development of catalytic converters in 1975 to innovating with integrated process technology for coatings, BASF has always been at the forefront of innovation when it comes to making transport solutions more sustainable. The company has already developed the technology to handle the move of emissions standards from BS IV to BS VI.

For the future, given the expected rise in the adoption of electric cars—an estimated 5~8 percent of car production is expected to be pure electric or plug-in electric vehicles by 2020—BASF is also developing materials that enable electric car batteries to last longer and achieve higher energy density, making electronic mobility more feasible. To learn more about how BASF is making transport more sustainable, see here.

Watch the video to see how automotive designers experimented with cutting edge materials from BASF to create an innovative concept car.

Play

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.

× Close