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First candidate for Syria's presidential election steps forward
April 23, 2014 / 2:42 PM / 4 years ago

First candidate for Syria's presidential election steps forward

BEIRUT (Reuters) - A Syrian lawmaker has nominated himself for president, state media said on Wednesday, the first candidate in an election likely to cement President Bashar al-Assad’s rule over a country devastated by civil war.

Parliament this week set the election for June 3, a move Assad’s international opponents said was a “parody of democracy” that would undermine any chance of resolving the conflict through peace talks.

Assad has yet to formally declare his candidacy but his allies have voiced increasing confidence that he will run and win, after government forces scored several victories against rebels around Damascus and along the Lebanese border.

State media said Maher Abdel-Hafiz Hajjar - a member of the government-sanctioned opposition, as opposed to Western-backed opposition politicians in exile or the armed rebels Assad denounces as “terrorists” - had nominated himself. He is unlikely to pose a real challenge to Assad.

The Supreme Constitutional Court is accepting nominations until May 1.

“Anyone who meets the conditions and submits a request for nomination to this court, we will accept this request and register it,” court spokesman Majid Khadra said.

Hajjar, formerly a member of the Communist Party, won a parliamentary seat for the northern city of Aleppo in 2012 under the Popular Front for Change and Liberation list, SANA said.

Aleppo was Syria’s largest city before the war and a major commercial hub but is now divided between rebel and government forces. Much of the population has fled and many districts have been devastated by bombardment and fighting.

The Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday the decision to hold the election was a “purely sovereign” one and that it would not permit foreign interference.

“If these countries, foremost among them the Western nations, are calling for democracy and freedom, then they should listen to the views of Syrians and who they choose through the ballot box,” the ministry was quoted as saying by SANA.

More than 150,000 people have been killed in Syria’s three-year-old conflict, which started as a peaceful protest movement against Assad’s rule but descended into civil war after a government crackdown.

Much of the country’s infrastructure has been devastated and the government has lost control of swathes of territory. Bombings, gunbattles, air strikes and shelling continue daily across the country.

Assad said last week the conflict was at a “turning point” due to his forces’ military gains against rebels.

Additional reporting by Marwan Makdisi in Damascus; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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