Monday 24 June 2019

Syrians reject Russia's plan to hold early presidential elections

A new Russian proposal for ending the Syrian conflict calls for early elections
A new Russian proposal for ending the Syrian conflict calls for early elections

A Russian proposal to end Syria's conflict that would include early presidential elections is facing opposition from both sides, as deep divisions remain over the fate of Bashar Assad.

Syrian MP Sharif Shehadeh, a member of the ruling Baath party, said there will be no presidential vote before Mr Assad's latest term ends in 2021.

He added that parliamentary elections are an internal Syrian affair and that it was still too early to hold them.

His comments came a day after Russia circulated a document on ending Syria's conflict that calls for drafting a new constitution in up to 18 months.

The charter would be put to a popular referendum and followed by an early presidential election.

Mr Shehadeh said the proposal is not official yet.

He added: "Regarding presidential elections there will be no talk about it. The president has a term and when it ends then we can talk about it."

Mr Assad was elected for a third seven-year term last year in an election boycotted by the opposition and panned by its Western supporters.

Prominent Syrian opposition figure Haitham al-Maleh said Russia, which began launching airstrikes in support of Mr Assad's troops on September 30, is an "occupation force" in Syria, adding that the opposition will not accept any role for Assad during the transition.

Speaking from Egypt, Mr al-Maleh said: "We will not accept that the regime stays even for 24 hours. Bashar should be detained and put on trial."

The Russian document makes no mention of Mr Assad stepping down during the transition - a key opposition demand. It only mentions that "the president of Syria will not chair the constitutional commission".

Mr al-Maleh said Russia wants "the current regime to stay", adding that the Russian air campaign "will be defeated".

The document was circulated ahead of a second round of talks in Vienna on Saturday among key governments on both sides of the Syrian conflict.

At the initial talks in Vienna on October 30, the US, Russia, Iran and more than a dozen other nations agreed to launch a new peace effort involving Syria's government and opposition groups.

But they carefully avoided the issue of when Mr Assad might leave power, a dispute at the heart of the conflict, which has claimed more than 250,000 lives and generated more than four million refugees.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Wednesday that the key subject on the agenda of the weekend talks in Vienna would be the creation of a list of the opposition that could be part of political talks and a list of "terrorists".

Asked what role Mr Assad should play, she said it was something for the Syrian people, not Russia, to decide.

Press Association

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