War-torn Syria to hold presidential elections on May 26

Candidates must have lived in Syria for at least 10 consecutive years, meaning opposition figures in exile cannot run.

Syrian President Assad and his wife Asma cast their vote inside a polling station during last year's parliamentary elections in Damascus, Syria [File: SANA/Reuters]

Syria is set to hold a presidential election on May 26, the country’s second in the shadow of civil war, seen as likely to keep President Bashar al-Assad in power.

The announcement was made by the parliament speaker on Sunday.

Syrians abroad will be “able to vote at embassies” on May 20, Hammouda Sabbagh said in a statement, adding that prospective candidates could hand in their applications from Monday.

Millions of people displaced by Syria’s long-running war were not eligible to cast ballots.

President Assad, who took power following the death of his father Hafez in 2000, has not yet officially announced he will stand for re-election.

He won the previous election in 2014, three years after a bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters and amid the raging conflict. At the time, he was given nearly 90 percent of the vote.

Since then, Russia’s military intervention has helped Assad to regain large swathes of land from opposition fighters, who now control a small pocket of land in the country’s northwestern region.

Under Syria’s 2012 constitution, a president may only serve two seven-year terms – with the exception of the president elected in the 2014 poll.

Candidates must have lived continuously in Syria for at least 10 years, meaning that opposition figures in exile who were fighting to end 51 years of Assad family rule are barred from standing.

Candidates must also have the backing of at least 35 members of the parliament, which is dominated by Assad’s Baath party.

The party won an expected majority in Syria’s parliamentary elections last year, denounced as theatrical by the opposition.

The poll also comes amid the coronavirus pandemic and a crushing economic crisis.

The country is facing a worsening food and electricity situation, with many in government-controlled areas queuing for fuel and bread.

Intermittent power cuts have forced local businesses to shut, which has raised the level of unemployment in recent months.

The value of the Syrian pound has plummeted on the black market, accelerated by the financial crisis in neighbouring Lebanon as well as US sanctions.

The decade-long war has left at least 500,000 people dead and millions displaced.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies