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LONG HAUL

Bashar al-Assad is all set to score a more decisive victory in the presidential elections in Syria than General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt. For one, he has two contenders instead of one and, unlike the 47 per cent turnout in Egypt, around 60 per cent of the electorate in Syria is believed to have turned up to vote. The electorate has, however, radically shrunk since Mr Assad now controls only 40 per cent of his country and innumerable Syrians, who have fled the country into neighbouring Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and even Israel, will not be able to vote because of travel restrictions or because they cannot risk being stuck in Syria again. For Mr Assad though, it is enough that he has been able to hold the elections. They deliver the message to his adversaries that he is here to stay. That message virtually negates years of hard work to end the violence in Syria and help a political transition that had been one of the central aims of the public upsurge against the al-Assad regime when it started three years back. Frustrated at the failure to ease the humanitarian crisis in Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, envoy of the United Nations-Arab League peace effort, quit last month. The Friends of Syria, the informal coalition of 11 Western and Arab countries, has denounced the elections as a farce, and agrees that the elections confirm their worst fears. There is now little hope that Mr Assad will step down to facilitate a transfer of power, and this practically means a ceaseless conflict between armed rebels and State forces, with the hapless population perpetually stuck between the two.

Mr Assad has played his cards right. While the minor concession of offering to destroy Syriaís chemical weapons last year provided an occasion to play up the Westís dilemma regarding full-scale military intervention, help from the Lebanese Hezbollah and discreet support from Iran have enabled the Assad regime to regain military advantage from the rebels. The Westís troubles in the Middle East and Ukraine have also been a useful distraction. Mr Assadís victory signals that there will be no easy closure in Syria. Together the presidential elections in both Syria and Egypt indicate that a revolution is not enough to ring in democracy and other freedoms.