Syria’s presidential election exposed the hypocrisy of Western powers who preach democracy, but did everything in their power to prevent Syrians from voting, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said Friday.
And by boycotting the election, the Syrian opposition missed out on an opportunity to initiate peaceful dialogue with the government, Nasrallah added in a televised speech given during a memorial ceremony for Sheikh Mustafa Kassir, the former head of the Islamic Institution for Education, who passed last week.
“America and the West and some regional countries did everything they could to prevent presidential elections from taking place in Syria,” Nasrallah said.
“These countries allege they want democracy and people to express their wills. Why, then, didn’t you allow them to vote?,” Nasrallah asked.
Many countries, including France, Germany, Italy, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, banned Syrian expats from voting in the June 3 election that saw the reelection of President Bashar al-Assad.
Enormous crowds of Syrian refugees flocked to their embassy in Lebanon on March 28 and 29 for absentee voting in a move that infuriated Assad’s Western opponents who have been insisting for years that the Syrian president has no support.
The scenes of tens of thousands of Syrians waving their flag and carrying Assad’s portrait as they chanted pro-Syria slogans and danced led to accusations that the refugees were coerced into voting, with local media and political figures calling on them to be expelled from Lebanon.
Some accused Hezbollah, whose troops are fighting in Syria’s three year war on the side of government forces, of threatening Syrians to go to the polls, a charge flatly rejected by Nasrallah.
“We all saw this what happened in Lebanon in front of the Syrian embassy [with the mass turnout], and I’d like to say that not only was the [pro-opposition] March 14 bloc surprised, but even we were surprised,” he said.
“[The opposition] said Hezbollah put pressure on people [to vote] and provided transportation, but none of this is true. Nobody put pressure on them or provided for logistics.”
Then on June 3, thousands more Syrians in Lebanon crossed the border to vote despite an interior ministry threat to revoke their refugee status.
“They expected the ballot stations to be empty. Even in Syria, they expected a widespread boycott of elections and that the government’s true nature would be uncovered, but it backfired,” Nasrallah said. “Elections were held, and what were the political results certified by the turnout?”
Nasrallah also spoke on two hot issues in Lebanon: The presidential vacuum, and the failure of Parliament to pass salary hike bill.
Regarding the presidential vacuum in Lebanon, Nasrallah dismissed accusations by Hezbollah’s opponents from the March 14 political alliance that the movement is attempting to sabotage the government by having its legislators boycott Parliament sessions scheduled to vote for a new head of state.
Lebanon has been without a president since Michel Sleiman’s term expired on May 25. Legislators had failed in five attempts since April to choose a successor due to a lack of quorum as MPs affiliated with the March 8 political bloc boycotted most sessions.
“If you believe that we are striving for a political or presidential vacuum to impose a change on the system, then go ahead and choose a president and put an end to the vacuum,” he said. “Choose a strong president” who will defend national interests, “and see that we are ready for such an approach” to end the crisis, he added.
March 14 has nominated Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, a convicted war criminal, as its presidential candidate. March 8 says it will never allow a president with blood on his hands such as Geagea, who was behind the murder of former prime minister Rashid Karami, to be elected, and urges its rivals to choose a consensus candidate.
The party chief also urged lawmakers to solve the wage scale issue as soon as possible.
“Most Lebanese families have members in the public sector, teachers in public schools or children who have official exams,” Nasrallah noted.
“There is a crucial need to solve the wage scale issue as soon as possible. The MPs have a humanitarian and national duty to do so,” he added, referring to a bill that would increase the salaries of civil sector workers and teachers by 121 percent.
Teachers are threatening to boycott Lebanon’s official exams should Parliament fail to pass the wage scale.
The Union Coordination Committee, a powerful coalition of teachers and civil sector workers, has been battling for almost three year to get the bill passed, but legislators continue to drag their feet on the issue due to pressure by banks and big business lobbying against it.