Syria presidential campaign opens
President Assad is widely expected to win the June 3 vote, with two other relatively unknown candidates on the ballot.
Campaigning has kicked off for Syria’s June 3 presidential vote that is expected to see President Bashar al-Assad return to his office despite the country’s brutal conflict.
The vote will be Syria’s first multi-candidate presidential election, but incumbent Assad, who is facing two other presidential hopefuls, is expected to easily win a third term in office.
In Damascus, Assad’s campaign was already well under way at launch on Sunday.
Throughout the city centre, dozens of posters featuring the Syrian flag overlaid with the word “together” and Assad’s signature were on display.
Portraits of Assad were put up at a public garden near the commercial centre of Salhieh along those of his late father Hafez al-Assad, and of chief ally, Hassan Nasrallah, who heads Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement.
Hafez al-Assad ruled Syria with an iron grip from 1970 until his death in 2000, when his son assumed office.
Critics say the election will be a sham with electoral rules preventing those who have lived abroad in the last decade from running. The rule effectively rules out opposition leaders from contesting.
‘Yes to the ophthalmologist’
Assad is running against two relatively unknown competitors – Maher Abdel Hafiz Hajjar and Hassan Abdullah al-Nouri.
Hajjar is from Syria’s second city of Aleppo, which has been devastated by fighting that broke out there in 2012, and is an independent MP and former member of the Communist Party.
Nouri is a Damascus businessman who was a member of the domestic opposition tolerated by Assad’s government.
In the capital’s Sabaa Bahrat neighbourhood, one billboard hung “by citizens of Syria” proclaims: “We won’t close our eyes until we have said yes to the ophthalmologist,” a reference to Assad, an eye specialist by training,.
“We vote for you, 2014,” it adds.
Elsewhere, posters read “our Bashar, we will not accept a president other than you. We have chosen you, you have our loyalty.”
Assad’s competitors have some representation too, with posters supporting Nuri seen on some Damascus streets.
They call for “a battle against corruption” as well as “a free economy” and the “return of the middle class”.
The election will be held despite the fighting that has raged in the country since an uprising began against Assad in March 2011.
The conflict has killed more than 150,000 people, displaced nine million from their homes and left large parts of the country beyond the control of the government.
Voting will only be held in areas under government control and refugees who left Syria through unofficial crossings are also barred from participating in the election.