DAMASCUS: Syria called a presidential election for June 3, aiming to give President Bashar Al Assad a veneer of electoral legitimacy in the midst of a civil war that has killed more than 150,000 people and driven a third of the population from their homes.
The opposition and the United States denounced the vote as a farce, and a UN spokesman said it will “hamper the prospects for a political solution.”
The announcement yesterday by Parliament Speaker Jihad Laham raises questions about how the government intends to hold any kind of credible vote within the deeply divided country, where large areas lie outside government control and where hundreds of thousands of people live in territory that is either contested, held by rebels or blockaded by pro-government forces.
“There will not be any voting centres in areas controlled by the gunmen,” Syrian lawmaker Sharif Shehadeh said. He said the Syrian army was present in many provinces across Syria, “and this will make up for the areas outside of government control,” he added.
But Nazeer Al Khatib, an opposition activist in Aleppo, said “the only people who will vote are the ones who support Assad”. “This is an outrage that anyone would even think of holding an election in the midst of this carnage,” said Rime Allaf, an adviser to the head of Syrian National Coalition opposition group.
“It is a slap in the face of all the efforts of the international community including the sponsors of the Geneva peace conference,” Allaf added, referring to two rounds of failed peace talks between the government and the opposition held in Switzerland.
World leaders have denounced Assad’s intention to hold elections. White House spokesman Jay Carney said Assad was “making a mockery of his own pretentions to be a democratically elected leader”. “The presidential referendum, which is what this would be, is a parody of democracy and would have no credibility or legitimacy within Syria or outside of Syria,” he said.
Last month, the Syrian parliament approved an electoral law opening the door to other candidates. The law, however, placed conditions ensuring that almost no opposition figures would be able to run. It states that any candidate must have lived in Syria for the past 10 years and cannot have any other citizenship. Laham said those seeking to run for president may register their candidacies from Tuesday until May 1. AP