Unsurprisingly, Syria’s Assad submits candidacy for May vote

Western powers call for boycott of the polls.
Wednesday 21/04/2021
A 2019 file picture of Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus, Syria. (SANA/AFP)
A 2019 file picture of Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus, Syria. (SANA/AFP)

DAMASCUS – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has been in power for 21 years, has submitted his candidacy for next month’s presidential election, state media said Wednesday.

The 55-year-old is widely expected to secure a fourth term in office by a comfortable margin in the May 26 vote, which observers have already said would be far from free and fair.

“Parliament was informed by the high constitutional court that Bashar Hafez al-Assad has filed a request” to run in the upcoming poll, the official SANA news agency said.

Five other candidates have so far filed applications with the high constitutional court, it said.

The little-known contenders include a former lawmaker and several businessmen.

Presidential hopefuls have until April 28 to put forth their candidacy for the second such vote to be held since the start of the country’s civil war a decade ago.

Candidacy conditions make a victory by Assad a foregone conclusion. Candidates have to garner support from at least 35 members of the 250-seat parliament, which is dominated by Assad’s Baath party.

They must have lived continuously in Syria for at least 10 years, meaning that opposition figures in exile are barred.

The previous presidential election was held in 2014 and saw two candidates run against Assad after a constitutional amendment allowing for a multi-candidate ballot.

Only two other candidates were approved by the Assad-appointed constitutional court and the incumbent won with 88 percent of the vote.

It will be the second vote since the conflict erupted in March 2011, killing at least 388,000 people since and displacing half the population, with no political solution in sight.

 Disputed vote 

Since the start of the war, government forces have clawed back swathes of territory from rebel and extremist forces with military help from regime allies Russia and Iran and Tehran’s proxy Lebanese militia, Hezbollah.

Several regional and global powers have lent they support to anti-Assad forces.

Today,  large parts of Syria still escape government control and polling will not take place in those areas.

They include the northwestern province of Idlib, a rebel bastion controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham which is led by members of Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate.

The Idlib region, including nearby districts where other rebel groups are also present, is home to 2.9 million people, of whom two thirds have fled their homes in other regions ravaged by violence.

Western powers last month warned against a poll that would not be “fair or free”, and opposition figure Nasr Hariri denounced the forthcoming election as a “farce”.

Hariri said the vote would show the “regime is disconnected from the people who revolted against it”.

Syria’s main opposition coalition in exile said it rejected all elections involving Assad.

In a statement, it urged the international community to take “measures… that would require the regime to engage in a real political solution”.

The poll comes amid a crushing economic crisis, compounded by a slew of Western sanctions, including from the United States, that have targeted key figures including Assad and his wife Asma.

Ahead of the vote, the foreign ministers of Britain, France, Germany, Italy and the US called for a boycott of the polls, which they said would not be “fair or free” and serve only to re-empower Assad.

In mid-March, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, urged the international community not to be fooled by such elections.

“They will not legitimise the Assad regime,” she said.

She told Security Council members the elections “do not meet the criteria laid out in Resolution 2254 — including that they be supervised by the UN or conducted pursuant to a new constitution”.