Syria to press ahead with 'farce' presidential poll
Syria said yesterday it would hold its first presidential election in June, despite fighting a civil war that has left tens of thousands dead, millions displaced and an economy in tatters.
Western diplomats and opposition figures denounced the poll as "farcical".
Last year, Syria approved constitutional reforms by referendum, including changing its elections from a yes/no ballot on a single candidate to pluralistic polls. But only those living in parts of the country under the regime's control and not listed as opposition supporters are likely to be able to vote.
Almost half of Syria's population of 22.4 million has been displaced in the conflict, with more than 2.5 million of those now refugees abroad.
Technically, those abroad could vote by visiting a Syrian embassy – but in Turkey, to which many of the refugees have fled, the embassy has been closed. In Jordan, hundreds of thousands of refugees are not permitted to leave the camps where they live. In Lebanon, which hosts one million refugees, many no longer have the identity cards required to vote and opposition supporters fear they will be arrested if they visit the Syrian embassy.
"We completely reject this farce," said Rime Allaf, an adviser to Ahmed Jarba, the president of the Syrian National Coalition, the main opposition in exile. "The vast majority of Syrians, even if they wanted to take part, are incapable of taking part, as refugees or displaced. Most people in the 'liberated areas' in Syria would not have the chance to vote even if they wanted to."
One Western diplomat said: "This is a ploy to give the veneer of legitimate authority to the Syrian regime. It is a joke."
Mohammad al-Lahham, the speaker of parliament, urged people "to give voice to their will through the ballot box and participate in the democratic process by electing whoever they think is most able to lead Syria to victory".
President Bashar al-Assad has not publicly announced his candidacy, but analysts have deemed it inconceivable that he would not stand. Mr Assad became president in 2000 on the death of his father Hafez al-Assad, who seized power in 1970.
Mr Lahham said candidates would be able to register to run from the beginning of May. New election rules require them to have lived in Syria for the past decade, in effect preventing key opposition figures in exile from standing for office. (© Daily Telegraph, London)