DAMASCUS/BEIRUT: Four new candidates have submitted applications to run for Syria’s presidency in an election that is expected to return President Bashar Assad to power next month, the parliamentary speaker said Tuesday.
Jihad Lahham announced the names of four new candidates, among them a woman and a Christian, in a session of parliament in the capital.
The new candidates bring the number of people seeking to run for president in the June 3 election to 11, including Assad, who announced his candidacy Monday.
The new hopefuls are Ali Wannous, Azza Mohammad, Talea Salah Nasser and Samih Mikhael Musa.
Like most of the hopefuls so far announced, they are relative unknowns.
Mohammad’s application brings the number of women competing in the vote to two.
Syria’s constitution requires that candidates for the presidency be Muslim, but a source in the constitutional court confirmed that Musa is Christian.
A noticeable murmuring was heard from MPs during the live television broadcast when Musa’s name was read out, apparently in reaction to the candidacy request, as Lahham attempted to retain order.
The constitutional court source said: “We receive all applications for presidential candidacy and transmit them to the parliament.”
“In the five days after the candidacy period ends, on May 5, we will examine the candidates to see if they meet all requirements. On May 6, we will announce who has met the conditions,” he added.
A leading Baath Party official, meanwhile, indicated that a maximum of three candidates would end up taking part in the June 3 poll, the first multicandidate presidential vote after a constitutional amendment did away with the previous referendum system.
Jamal Qaderi, an MP and party official responsible for Damascus, told Al-Watan daily, which is close to the regime, that the entirety of the Baath’s 161 MPs in the 250-member legislature would support Assad.
He said that would leave room for “one or two” other candidates. Each prospective candidate must garner the support of at least 35 MPs in order to be accepted for the race.
The 10 would-be contenders will have 89 MPs whom they must lobby to secure signatures of support.
Observers believe that Maher Hajjar, an independent communist MP, and Hassan Nouri, an ex-minister, are the front-runners in the race to become eligible to compete against Assad.
Iran defended the election, saying the vote could end the 3-year-old civil war ravaging its close ally.
“We believe the presidential election will play an important role in establishing peace and stability in the country,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham told reporters at her weekly briefing.
She called on the international community to “respect the inalienable rights of the Syrian people, so that the vote can bring an end to the country’s crisis.”
But with large swathes of the country beyond the control of the government, it remains unclear how it will organize the vote.
Nearly half of the country’s population has been forced to flee their homes, many crossing into neighboring countries to seek refuge.
Syria’s electoral commission said Monday that those who had left the country “illegally” would not be allowed to vote. The decision is likely to affect many refugees who crossed through rebel-held border posts into neighboring countries or were smuggled out of Syria.
State-run media and pro-regime media outlets have been heavily playing up the election as it approaches, with local pundits arguing that a majority of the population, including the internally displaced, live in areas of government control.
Demonstrations of support for Assad’s candidacy have become a near-daily event in regime-controlled areas around the country.