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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 23 February 2018

Al Assad announces he will run for presidency in June 3 vote

Balloting will be firmly under the control of feared security services and voting will only taking place in regime-held parts of the country.

Syrian President Bashar Al Assad during an interview on January 20. Joseph Eid / AFP Photo
Syrian President Bashar Al Assad during an interview on January 20. Joseph Eid / AFP Photo

BEIRUT // Bashar Al Assad on Monday announced his candidacy for another seven-year term as Syria’s president, in an election in which he will face only token opposition.

“I ... Dr Bashar Hafez Al Assad ... wish to nominate myself for the post of president of the republic, hoping that parliament will endorse it,” Mr Al Assad wrote to Syria’s constitutional court which, like the parliament, is ostensibly independent but in reality under strict regime control, rubber stamping presidential decisions.

Mr Al Assad, 48, is widely expected to win the election, due to take place on June 3, against candidates vetted and approved by the staunchly pro-regime parliament. Some of them have already been filmed sitting in front of posters of the president, supposedly their rival.

Balloting will be firmly under the control of feared security services and voting will only taking place in regime-held parts of the country, not the approximately 40 per cent of Syrian territory that is under rebel control.

Potential opposition candidates have been excluded from taking part by new laws passed last month, including a requirement that Syria’s president be at least 40 years old. Mr Al Assad was 34 when he was appointed president 14 years ago, following a hasty rewrite of the constitution that would have excluded him on grounds of age. The limit has now been switched back to 40 years.

Large numbers of refugees – a third of the Syrian population has fled – are also likely to be excluded from voting because many have left illegally. Only those with exit stamps in their passports will technically be allowed to take part.

Following the announcement, state-run media quoted Mr Al Assad as calling for a calm, saying any “demonstration of joy expressed by supporters of any candidate for the presidency should be responsible”.

He also requested no celebratory gunfire, telling his backers that “we are living in an atmosphere of elections which Syria is holding for the first time in its modern history”.

The United Nations has criticised the elections, saying they undermine the path to a political settlement agreed in Geneva in June 2012 whereby Mr Al Assad is required to hand over power to a transitional government that includes opposition members.

Since a peaceful uprising began in March 2011, demanding an end to four decades of Assad family rule, more than 150,000 people have been killed in what has become a brutal civil war in the heart of the Middle East.

psands@thenational.ae