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Assad Won’t Let Mounting Deaths Keep Syria From Holding Sham Election

Syria’s government is preparing a presidential election of dubious legitimacy as bloodshed and turmoil continue to plague the country.

by John Beck
Apr 21 2014, 4:45pm

Photo by Reuters

Despite an ongoing civil war that has divided the country and left more than 150,000 people dead as well as millions displaced, Syria’s government is preparing a democratic farce. Amid persisting reports of bloodshed and turmoil, officials have announced that a presidential election will be held on June 3.

“I tell the Syrian people that the time for the presidential elections has come,” parliament speaker Mohammed Laham proclaimed on Monday morning, according to the state-run SANA news agency. “We declare that presidential elections will be carried out on schedule with no delay, heedless of what some are saying from abroad in a bid to undermine our self-confidence and break down our political and democratic track.”

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Syrian parliament speaker Mohammed Laham announces June 3 as the date for the country’s presidential election.

Laham defended the legitimacy of the election; he called on Syrians at home and abroad to vote and, if they wish, to stand for president. Candidates who wish to run will be able to register from Tuesday until May 1. Only those who have resided in Syria for the last ten years will be eligible, blocking any major opposition figures from running.

Meanwhile, mortar attacks by rebel forces killed at least five civilians and injured dozens near the parliament building in central Damascus this morning. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported heavy casualties in Aleppo due to sustained government airstrikes and attacks using “barrel bombs” — crude, un-targeted explosive weapons usually rolled out of helicopters — which have caused widespread devastation in the city. The monitoring group said that 29 people were killed in Aleppo’s Al-Ferdous district on Sunday, while another 14 died in the city’s Baeedeen neighborhood.

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Footage shows the aftermath of airstrikes on Aleppo’s southern Al-Ferdous district.

The shelling of parliament by rebels was likely symbolic, meant to strike at the heart of President Bashar al-Assad’s power base. Armed opposition groups have also recently staged a concerted offensive in coastal province of Latakia, a stronghold of Assad’s supporters. Nevertheless, government forces have recently made significant advances into rebel-held areas, taking advantage of rebel infighting and their continued lack of equipment.

Assad, who assumed office following the death of his father Hafez in 2000, is expected to announce his pursuit of another seven-year term, defying the mass uprising against his rule that recently entered its fourth year.

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He ran unopposed in 2007, but an electoral law that could potentially allow other candidates to run was approved by parliament earlier this month. Few opposition figures can expect anything approaching a normal democratic process, however. An image being widely shared on social media sites neatly illustrates the perceived lack of choice.

Syria was ranked 164th out of 167 in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2012.

President Bashar al-Assad visited the Christian town of Maaloula in Syria on April 20 to mark Easter Sunday.

Assad seems to be in the campaigning mood. Reflecting confidence following his army’s advances against the rebels, he paid an Easter Sunday visit to the historic town of Maaloula, north of Damascus, which has a large Christian population. He continues to portray himself as a protector of Syria’s minorities and culture against “terrorist” opposition groups.

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Syrians living outside the country can vote beginning on May 28. But it remains to be seen how the election will be managed during a war that has involved brutal fighting in the country's major cities, displacing at least 6.5 million of its citizens and causing another 2.6 million to flee the country, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.