President Bashar al-Assad was sworn in for a fourth term in war-torn Syria on Saturday, after securing 95% of the vote in a controversial election rejected overseas.
Assad was sworn in on the constitution and the Koran in the presence of more than 600 guests, including ministers, businessmen, academics and journalists, organizers said.
The elections “proved the strength of the popular legitimacy that the people have bestowed on the state,” Assad, 55, said in his inaugural address.
They “discredited the statements of Western officials about the legitimacy of the state, the constitution and the homeland”.
He called on “those who bet on the disappearance of the motherland” to return to his “embrace”.
“We tell each of them that you are being exploited by the enemies of our country against your own people, and the revolution they deceived you with is an illusion,” he said.
The vote extending Assad’s grip on power was the second since the start of a decade-long civil war that has killed more than 500,000 people, displaced millions and destroyed the country’s infrastructure.
On the eve of the May 26 election, the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Italy said the ballot was “neither free nor fair,” and the fragmented opposition. Syria called it a “farce”.
With his campaign slogan, “Hope through Work”, Assad presented himself as the only viable architect of a reconstruction phase for the ailing country.
– New priority economy –
In his speech on Saturday, he outlined the priorities for the future.
“During more than 10 years of war, our concerns were numerous, and dominated by the security and the unity of the homeland, but today, they especially liberate the parts of the homeland which still have to be, and face the repercussions of war on the economy and people’s livelihoods.
Government forces control two-thirds of the country, but several parts of the north remain out of their control.
Al-Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate and allied rebels rule the rebel stronghold of Idlib in the northwest.
Kurdish-led forces control much of the east after expelling ISIS from the region.
And Turkey and its Syrian proxies hold a long strip of territory along the northern border.
Assad is sworn in as the country faces a severe economic crisis.
Over 80% of the population lives in poverty and the Syrian pound has plunged against the dollar, causing inflation to spike.
In recent weeks, the government has raised the price of unsubsidized gasoline, bread, sugar and rice, while power cuts can last for up to 20 hours a day in areas it controls.
Across the country, 12.4 million people struggle to find enough food every day, according to the World Food Program.
The government in Damascus blamed the country’s economic woes on Western sanctions and the worsening crisis in neighboring Lebanon.
Assad was first elected by referendum in 2000 following the death of his father Hafez al-Assad, who had ruled Syria for 30 years.
© 2021 AFP