BEIRUT: The former head of the opposition-in-exile National Coalition has stepped back from entertaining a presidential run in elections later this year, as the regime continues its efforts to mobilize support for the upcoming poll.
A Facebook campaign supporting Ahmad Moaz Khatib to run for president, in elections scheduled for early summer, picked up the support of tens of thousands of people online after its launch on Sunday.
A number of contributors to the page posted photographs of themselves holding small placards signaling their support for Khatib as a candidate against President Bashar Assad. The expressions of support were also prominent from people outside Syria.
Khatib Monday responded to the grassroots campaign, by stressing that he was not behind the initiative and declaring that he would neither accept nor reject the idea.
But after a storm of criticism of the possibility of seeing him declare his candidacy in a poll organized by the regime, Khatib changed course, saying bluntly that “I will not participate in any elections as long as this regime exists.”
He indicated that his earlier stance generated the mistaken belief that elections could be held with millions of Syrians either displaced internally, or outside the country.
Khatib was obliged to recall that his first reaction maintained that a proper election round could not be held under the current conditions.
He also praised the campaign as a positive effort that was allowing average Syrians to express their point of view, although he indicated a wave of vitriol and name-calling in the reactions to his stance was off-putting.
“A revolution with no morals will not triumph,” he added in Tuesday’s post. “I was surprised that many people didn’t understand things. Some of them were unbalanced [in their responses], and others had a narrow, partisan mentality.”
Observers said the campaign was a natural outcome of the failure of the Geneva II round of peace talks in January and February, which failed to make any headway on a political solution to the crisis in Syria.
The regime has been mobilizing near-daily gatherings of support for Assad in towns and cities, as speculation grows that the authorities will seek to stage an election in areas that it controls.
One of the leading figures in the officially tolerated opposition, Hasan Abdel-Azim, told The Daily Star he had no intention to run for president, after his name appeared in recent media reports to that effect.
“Any talk of elections now isn’t appropriate. Holding [presidential] polls means we’re blocking the Geneva [negotiation] process, which is supposed to lead to a transitional authority,” Abdel-Azim said.
“I’m 81 years old. I have no intention of running for president, for prime minister or speaker,” added Abdel-Azim, the general coordinator of the National Coordination Body, a coalition of opposition groups that do not support a military solution to the Syrian crisis.
He said “no real elections” could take place, due to displacement and a host of other problems faced by the mass of the Syrian public.
“The regime benefited from the failure of Geneva. It might offer a fait accomplito the public, by organizing elections in a few provinces where it has control,” Abdel-Azim said.
Pro-opposition activists, meanwhile, echoed the belief that with the failure of Geneva, the regime appeared determined to press ahead with an election process, no matter how flawed.
“You might see a few people who come forward as candidates, but they will be the kind of people who are approved by the regime in the first place,” said one activist, who requested anonymity. “They won’t be serious candidates on any level.”