Syria to hold presidential vote on May 26

Damascus (AFP) –


Syria will hold a presidential election on May 26 likely to keep in power President Bashar al-Assad, in a country devastated by a decade of war.

The vote will be the second since the conflict erupted in March 2011, with no political solution in sight to end a war that has killed at least 388,000 people and displaced half the population.

The election, announced on Sunday by speaker of parliament Hamouda Sabbagh, also comes as Syria is mired in a deep economic crisis.

Assad, who took power following the death of his father Hafez in 2000, has not yet officially announced that he will stand for re-election.

The now 55-year-old won a previous poll three years into the war, in 2014, with 88 percent of the vote.

Since government forces have clawed back swathes of territory from rebel and jihadist forces with military help from regime allies Russia and Iran and Tehran's proxy Lebanese militia, Hezbollah.

But 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 major 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.

Also unable to vote will be Syrians living in border regions controlled by Turkish troops and proxy militias, and others who live in areas of the Kurdish-majority north where regime forces are not present.

Voting will only be allowed for Syrians living in government-controlled areas or those living abroad but registered with their country's embassies, according to Sabbagh.

- Calls for boycott -

Presidential hopefuls can submit their candidacies during a 10-day period starting Monday, Sabbagh said.

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

Candidates must also have the backing of at least 35 members of the parliament, which is dominated by Assad's Baath party.

The poll comes amid a crushing economic crisis, compounded by the coronavirus pandemic and 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 five Western powers -- Britain, France, Germany, Italy and the United States -- called for a boycott of the election, which they predicted would not be "fair or free" and would 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 the poll.

"These elections will neither be free nor fair. They will not legitimise the Assad regime," said Thomas-Greenfield in mid-March.

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".