DAMASCUS: Syria’s Parliament Sunday said four more candidates, including one woman, had announced their candidacy for the June 3 presidential election widely expected to be won by President Bashar Assad.
The new hopefuls bring the total number of candidates to six, though Assad has not yet announced his candidacy.
The opposition in exile and the West have said the election will be a “parody” of democracy, but the Syrian government says it aims to hold a “free and transparent” vote.
Analysts said they expected at least one candidate to run against Assad to give the election a veneer of legitimacy.
Syria’s Foreign Ministry rejected the criticism, saying the decision to hold presidential elections was “sovereign.” It warned that “no foreign power will be allowed to intervene” in the process.
Syria said Saturday it aimed for a “free and transparent” election, responding to opposition and Western criticism of the poll.
“The Syrian presidency ... maintains an equal distance from all candidates in order that Syrians can choose their ... president freely and transparently,” a statement said.
And it saluted the “democratic atmosphere” in which candidates were coming forward to take part in the race.
Parliament Speaker Jihad Lahham said during a live broadcast that Sawsan Haddad, Samir Maala, Mohammad Firas Rajjouh and Abdel-Salam Salameh had put their names forward to contest the post.
They join a businessman, Hassan al-Nuri, who studied in the United States, and independent MP and former communist Maher Hajjar as candidates.
Haddad, the only female candidate so far, was born in 1963 and is a mechanical engineer from Latakia province in the northwest, Assad’s Alawite heartland.
Maala is an international law professor from Quneitra province in the south.
Rajjuh was born in Damascus in 1966, and Salameh, born in 1971, is from central Homs province.
The candidates are all largely unknown, with few details immediately available about their backgrounds or political leanings. A number of pro-opposition media outlets said Haddad was a member of the Baath Party, led by Assad.
New election rules prevent anyone who has lived outside Syria in the past decade from running, effectively preventing the opposition-in-exile from taking part in the vote.
Assad said in January there was a good chance he would run, and there is no doubt he will win if he does.
Would-be presidential candidates must win the support of at least 35 of Syria’s 250 MPs to do so, and an MP is not allowed to endorse more than one candidate.
Out of 250 lawmakers in the legislature, 160 are members of Assad’s Baath party, which has ruled Syria with an iron fist for nearly 50 years.
The election will be Syria’s first multicandidate presidential vote, after a constitutional amendment threw out the old referendum system. But under the constitution adopted in 2012, those who have not lived in Syria continuously for the past 10 years are barred from standing.
Previously, under the current president and his late father, only one candidate was presented, and his name submitted to a referendum.