Syria announces presidential election date

Syria announced a presidential election for June 3 on Monday, preparing the ground for Bashar al-Assad to defy widespread opposition and extend his grip on power, days after he said the civil war was turning in his favour.

Western and Gulf Arab countries that back Assad's opponents have called plans for an election a "parody of democracy" and said it would wreck efforts to negotiate a peace settlement.

United Nations-backed talks in Geneva collapsed in February with both sides far from agreement – not least over the question of whether Assad should go.

Monzer Akbik of the Western-backed National Coalition opposition group, told Reuters the election was a sign Assad was unwilling to seek a political solution to the conflict.

"This is a state of separation from reality, a state of denial. He didn't have any legitimacy before this theatrical election and he will not after," Akbik said.

"We do not know what actor he is putting up as an opponent but we are not taking this seriously."

Infighting has fragmented the anti-Assad forces, and several major opposition figures did not attend the Geneva talks.

"Parody of democracy"
The European Union reiterated its stance against holding an election now, saying such a vote: "conducted in the midst of conflict, only in regime-controlled areas and with millions of Syrians displaced from their homes would be a parody of democracy, have no credibility whatsoever, and undermine efforts to reach a political solution."

The three-year-old rebellion against Assad has killed more than 150 000 people, forced millions to flee their homes and caused the government to lose control over swathes of territory.

On Monday, 11 government and loyalist fighters were killed near Talbisah, an Alawite town north of the central city of Homs, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-Assad group based in Britain, said.

Alawites are followers of an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam. Assad is Alawite and the bulk of his opponents are Sunni Muslims, who form the majority of Syria's population.

On Sunday, dozens of people were killed in air strikes in the northern city of Aleppo, the Observatory said, including 14 people in the Baeedeen neighbourhood killed by "barrel bombs" – highly destructive improvised explosives dropped by helicopter, a tactic that Western countries have condemned as a war crime.

Gun battles, shelling and air strikes continue daily and the weekly death toll from the conflict regularly exceeds 1 000. The Observatory put Sunday's death toll at 273.

In Damascus, which has been spared the worst of the fighting, two people were killed by mortars fired by "terrorists", state news agency SANA said.

Although Assad has not explicitly said he will run for office again, preparations for his candidacy have already begun in state-controlled parts of the capital.

Announcing the election on state television, parliamentary speaker Mohamed Jihad al-Laham said requests for nomination would be accepted until May 1. Syrians outside the country would be able to vote at Syrian embassies on May 28, he said.

Parliament set residency rules for presidential candidates in March, a move that would bar many of Assad's foes who live in exile. –Reuters

PW Botha wagged his finger and banned us in 1988 but we stood firm. We built a reputation for fearless journalism, then, and now. Through these last 35 years, the Mail & Guardian has always been on the right side of history.

These days, we are on the trail of the merry band of corporates and politicians robbing South Africa of its own potential.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Advertisting

Tension over who’s boss of courts

In a letter, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng questions whether Justice Minister Ronald Lamola has acted constitutionally

SABC sued over ‘bad’ clip of Ramaphosa

A senior employee at the public broadcaster wants compensation for claims of ‘sabotage’

Soundtrack to a pandemic: Africa’s best coronavirus songs

Drawing on lessons from Ebola, African artists are using music to convey public health messaging. And they are doing it in style

In East Africa, the locusts are coming back for more

In February the devastating locust swarms were the biggest seen in East Africa for 70 years. Now they’re even bigger

Press Releases

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world

SAB Zenzele special AGM rescheduled to March 25 2020

New voting arrangements are being made to safeguard the health of shareholders

Dimension Data launches Saturday School in PE

The Gauteng Saturday School has produced a number of success stories