Syria’s opposition condemned Monday’s announcement of a June 3 presidential election expected to keep Bashar Assad in power despite tens of thousands of deaths in an anti-regime revolt since 2011.
“The Assad regime’s announcement today that a ‘presidential election’ would be held in June should be treated as a farce and be rejected by the international community,” said the office of opposition National Coalition leader Ahmad Jarba.
“With vast parts of Syria completely destroyed by Assad’s air force, army and militias over the last three years, and with a third of Syria’s population displaced internally or in refugee camps in the region, there is no electorate in Syria in a condition to exercise its right to vote,” it said.
Parliament speaker Mohammed al-Lahham earlier announced the election will be held on June 3, while Syrians living outside the country would vote on May 28.
Voting would be “free and fair… and under full judicial supervision”, he said.
Assad, who became president after his father Hafez died in 2000 and whose current term ends on July 17, is widely expected to run and win another seven-year mandate despite the conflict.
New election rules require candidates to have lived in Syria for the past decade, effectively preventing key opposition figures in exile from standing for office.
The election will be held more than three years into a war that has killed more than 150,000 people and forced nearly half the population to flee their homes.
Syria’s conflict began as a peaceful Arab Spring-inspired movement for democratic reform, but morphed into a civil war after the Assad regime launched a massive crackdown against dissent.
Exiled Coalition member Samir Nashar, who spoke from neighboring Turkey, described the election as “a mere continuation of (Syria’s) past.”
“For 50 years, from 1963 (when the ruling Baath party came to power) to date, there have been no transparent elections,” Nashar told Agence France Presse.
“I don’t think that anyone would believe that these elections can really express the will of the Syrian people, considering all this destruction and forced displacement… What elections are we talking about? What about democracy?”
Speaking to AFP via the Internet from rebel-held Daraya, under siege and daily shelling for more than a year, activist Muhannad Abu al-Zein said: “What sane person can imagine that you can have an election when 80 percent of the country has become a disaster area?
“The truth is that… most people see this (announcement) as a joke.”