President Bashar Assad’s government is preparing for presidential and parliamentary elections amid planned worldwide demonstrations marking the third anniversary of the Syrian civil war’s outbreak.
Syria’s exiled opposition will be barred from the presidential election to be held before July, virtually ensuring Assad’s return to office three years into an uprising against his family’s four-decade rule.
Saturday marks the third anniversary of the revolt, which began as peaceful protests calling for democratic change but it turned into civil war after the regime brutally cracked down on dissent. Non-governmental organizations and various other civil groups have decided to organize candlelight vigils for the Syrian people in more than 40 countries.
Assad has remained in power despite devastating fighting that has killed more than 146,000 people and driven millions from their homes, while rebels have seized large swathes of the country.
The United Nations meanwhile renewed its call for peace talks to resume. UN officials are cautioning that moving ahead with a presidential election later this year would hurt prospects for negotiating an end to the bloodshed. The opposition has repeatedly insisted that Assad must step down as part of any peace agreement, most recently doing so in two rounds of failed talks earlier this year.
The only other candidates who appear eligible would be those from the tolerated opposition in Damascus, who have little popular support and no connection to the rebels battling to overthrow Assad. The election must be called 60 to 90 days before the end of Assad’s term on July 17.
Previous elections have been referendums to confirm the candidate chosen by the Baath party, whose power was entrenched in a 1973 constitution.
Hafez Assad came to power in 1970. When he died in 2000 his son Bashar took over.