The city of Homs, Syria is a blockaded, insurgent-held war zone. In the midst of the scarred neighborhoods and broken concrete, only soldiers move, as residents have either left or are afraid to show their faces. Some of the surrounding neighborhoods are crammed with the displaced while others have been completely destroyed. The raging war has driven nine million Syrians from their homes.
Despite all of this, Homs is still preparing for what is hoped to be a safe and peaceful exercise in democracy. The local governor, Talal al-Barazi, expressed optimism that the city would have “relatively good elections.” The sentiment is shared at the highest levels in Damascus. Officials in Damascus have declared that a presidential vote will be held within three months.
For the first time in decades, there will be an opponent on the ballot (in theory); even though nearly all of the officials believe that President Bashar al-Assad will win. Claiming another seven-year term would be a remarkable feat of survival for Mr. Assad, who has been fighting a three-year revolt against his rule. A victory would also demoralize his Syrian opponents who staked their lives, families and towns on his ouster, as well as embarrass his international foes.
Mr. Assad and his allies have declared that insurgents no longer pose a credible threat to overthrow him. A former Russian prime minister, Sergei V. Stepashin, said Mr. Assad had told him, “This year, the active phase of military action in Syria will be ended.” Many Western diplomats in the region have quietly come to share Mr. Assad’s view, even though they believe the conflict will drag on. A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry of France said wryly, “Maybe he will be the sole survivor of this policy of mass crimes.”