After winning an election, most world leaders can expect a phone call from their counterparts around the world to congratulate them on their victory. Unless you’re Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, that is. In that case, the first — and for awhile the only — to actually have their leader compliment Assad on his win? North Korea.
“Supreme leader Kim Jong Un Thursday sent a congratulatory message to Bashar Al-Assad upon his re-election as president of Syria,” KCNA, the communist country’s state media outlet, said in a short article released on Thursday. “The message extended warm congratulations to him upon his re-election as president of Syria thanks to the support and trust of the Syrian people.”
It wouldn’t be a message from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea without a jab a the United States, though, and this one lives up to the promise. “It said that the election marked an important occasion in the struggle of the Syrian people to meet all challenges of the imperialists and hostile forces and protect the sovereignty and security of the country,” KCNA wrote of Kim’s message. “The message wished the president greater success in his responsible work to build an independent, peaceful and prosperous Syria.”
The only other country to publish its congratulations towards Assad is Venezuela and its embattled president Nicolas Maduro. Much like North Korea’s, a substantial portion of Venezuela’s text is dedicated to condemning the United States and its allies. “We condemn the different voices from the West disapprove of this election and call for the continuation of the war,” the statement, released from Venezuela’s foreign ministry reads. “President Nicolas Maduro reiterated its full support for the Syrian people in their struggle for peace and reiterates its strong condemnation of the destabilizing actions that are still in Syria, with encouragement from members of NATO.”
Assad surprised nobody in his election victory, claiming a third seven-year term in office as the head of Syria, taking what the state’s constitutional commission said was 88.7 percent of the vote. For weeks now, however, Western and Gulf governments have slammed the election as a sham and issued condemnations rather than congratulations at the results’ announcement. “Assad lacked legitimacy before this election, and he lacks it afterwards,” British Foreign Minister William Hague said in a statement on Thursday. “This election bore no relation to genuine democracy.” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said on Wednesday that the election doesn’t change the U.S.’ efforts to end the bloodshed in Syria “because we believe it’s a total sham. It’s disgusting; it’s just not acceptable on any level, humanitarian, politically, or otherwise.”
Among Syria’s other erstwhile allies, there’s been a very muted response to the election. While not receiving a call from Russian president Vladimir Putin, Moscow did lend its support to the election. “Moscow sees the vote as an important event that safeguards the continued functioning of state institutions in Syria,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich told reporters at a briefing. While the vote “naturally not 100 percent democratic,” Lukashevick told reporters, the lopsided results “give us no reason to question the legitimacy of the election”
China, however, which has joined Russia in vetoing four resolutions related to Syria at the United Nations Security Council, dodged on outright congratulating Assad on his win. “The Syrian turmoil has come into its fourth year, bringing grave sufferings to the country and the people, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said when asked point-blank for China’s comment on the election results. “China believes that no matter how the situation in Syria plays out, political settlement remains the only viable way out to solving the Syrian issue. Thus this correct direction must be firmly.”
Even Iran, which has been propping up the Assad government with money and weapons, hasn’t said much to Assad after his win. Though the Syrian president congratulated Iranian president Hassan Rouhani after his election last year, Rouhani has not yet returned the favor. The highest-ranked Iranian to extend congratulations to Assad is the speaker of Iran’s parliament, Ali Larijani.
The Syrian state media, though, is taking a positive look at the silence, instead focusing on Syrians abroad who cheered Assad’s victory. “Members of the Syrian community in the US took to the streets in several cities to express their happiness for the victory of Dr. Bashar al-Assad in the presidential elections with the sweeping majority of votes,” one story reads. “The Syrian community members toured the streets of Pennsylvania and Michigan raising the national flags and photos of President al-Assad and they chanted national slogans and saluted the Syrian Arab Army.” No reporting from either state bears out this claim.
And at least one other person has congratulated Assad: his opponent, Dr. Hassan al-Nouri, congratulated Assad for “winning the confidence of the Syrian people through winning the presidential elections.” That in itself is unsurprising given that both of Assad’s two challengers devoted a good amount of time calling Assad a “great leader” and otherwise supporting the current government.
Ben Norton contributed to the reporting of this article