DAMASCUS: A businessman who studied in the United States became Thursday the second hopeful to register for Syria’s controversial June presidential election, which is expected to return incumbent Bashar Assad to office.
Like the first would-be candidate to declare his candidacy, Hasan Abdullah al-Nuri is a member of the regime-tolerated opposition.
Also Thursday, Assad appointed seven judges to an electoral commission charged with overseeing the poll. State news agency SANA said Assad appointed six men and a woman to the Higher Judicial Election Commission, along with seven magistrates – also six male and one female.
The authorities have not spelled out how they plan to hold a credible election amid a raging civil war in which they have lost control of large swathes of the country to rebel groups and militias. State-run media have been heavily promoting the poll, conducting street interviews to gauge interest – some of the interviewees have appeared hesitant to answer when asked about their stance on a multi-candidate race.
The opposition has slammed the vote as a “farce,” while the United Nations and the Arab League have warned it would deal a heavy blow to efforts to broker a negotiated peace.
“We announce the candidacy of Hasan Abdullah al-Nuri for the presidency of the Syrian Arab Republic,” said Parliament Speaker Mohammad Lahham.
His candidacy was announced a day after that of independent member of Parliament and former communist Maher Hajjar.
An ex-MP and former secretary of state for administrative development, Nuri was born in Damascus in 1960 and has five children.
He heads the National Initiative for Change, an opposition group tolerated by the Assad government.
According to state television, he received two master’s degrees in the United States, the first in management at the University of Wisconsin, and the second in human resources development, at John F. Kennedy University in California.
Hajjar, who Wednesday filed his paperwork for the race, is thought to be close to communist politician Qadri Jamil, who was dismissed last year as deputy prime minister for economic affairs after he overstepped his prerogatives, the authorities said.
The name of a third candidate, Sawsan Haddad, has been circulated in recent days, although the authorities in Damascus have insisted that only two candidates have declared their candidacies up to now. Assad has yet to announce his own candidacy. In January, he told AFP there were strong chances he would stand.
Would-be candidates must win the support of at least 35 of Syria’s 250 MPs to stand, and MPs are not allowed to grant their support to more than one candidate.
Of those, a full 160 are from the Baath party, which has ruled Syria with an iron fist for nearly 50 years.
Electoral rules bar anyone who has not lived in Syria continuously for the past 10 years from standing, effectively excluding most of the opposition.