Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will run for a third term, in an election the opposition has dismissed as ending any hope for a political solution to the country’s three-year war.
Syrians took to the streets of Damascus, the coastal city of Tartus and the central city of Homs in support of the June 3 vote, according to state-run television. The rallies came hours after Parliament Speaker Mohamed Jihad Laham, during a televised parliamentary session, read a letter from Assad announcing his desire to seek re-election.
The Syrian National Coalition, the main political opposition, has repudiated the vote as a sham and said it undermines efforts to end the war that has killed more than 150,000 people.
The election will be “the last nail in the coffin of a political solution,” coalition member Mohamed Khair Banco said in an April 25 e-mailed statement.
“These elections are a parody of democracy, and the lack of an appropriate response from the international community means it emboldens Assad to escalate his state terrorism, not only in Syria, but in the whole region,” he said in the statement.
Assad told Syrians today to express their joy at the “first election of its kind” in Syria’s modern history by going to the polls and not by firing in the air, according to a statement posted on the presidency’s official Facebook page.
For the first time, other candidates besides the country’s ruler are allowed to run. Six other contenders have stepped forward so far.
A new electoral law approved last month blocks opposition members in exile from running by stipulating candidates must have lived in Syria for the past 10 years and have no other citizenship.
Assad’s second seven-year term ends on July 17. He succeeded his father, Hafez, a former military commander who had ruled for nearly four decades, in 2000, then won an additional term in 2007 with 98 percent of the vote. He was the only candidate.
In another development, the activist Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra front restored power to the city of Aleppo after a 10-day cutoff. Nusra had offered to end the blackout if government troops stopped shelling civilian areas, the U.K.-based Observatory said in an e-mail citing a Nusra statement.
To contact the reporter on this story: Donna Abu-Nasr in Beirut at email@example.com