DAMASCUS, March 18 (Xinhua) -- As the conflict in Syria enters its fourth year, the country braces itself for the upcoming presidential elections amid accusations by opposition groups and world powers that the electoral law endorsed by Syria's parliament is bias in favor of President Bashar al-Assad.
Assad, whose second term will end on July 17, hasn't yet announced whether or not he plans to run in the presidential elections, but he has reportedly expressed interest in running again.
Statements made by Syrian officials hint that the president is likely to run again, with many officials convinced that only Assad is capable of leading the country out of the quagmire and confusion of the conflict that has claimed the lives of some 140, 000 over the past three years.
In a recent interview with Xinhua, Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said "President Assad is the real guarantee for the security and stability of Syria (and can) lead the reconstruction process to restore Syria as a real power in this region."
Mekdad said the government is trying to "avoid having a state of a leadership vacuum in Syria," adding that government will respect the constitution and election laws.
On Monday, the Syrian parliament approved a general elections bill that has given other candidates, along with Assad, an opportunity to run in the elections, but it also shuns aside most of the opposition figures.
The parliament's speaker Mohammad Jihad al-Laham will call for presidential elections before the end of the current president's term within a period of time that is no less than 60 days and not more than 90 days, according to the official Syrian media.
Laham said that presidential elections will not take place in case there is only one candidate, stressing that the constitution emphasizes this point.
Minister of Justice Najm al-Ahmad said in a statement reported by the official news agency SANA that the general elections law is a turning point that will be monitored under the full supervision and control of the judiciary.
Days earlier, the parliament unanimously voted in favor of a constitutional item providing that the candidate for presidency must have lived in Syria for 10 consecutive years prior to nomination.
In a parliament session, the speaker recited Item 30 of the constitution which states that candidates should be over 40 years of age, Syrian citizens born to Syrian parents. It also stipulated that candidates who hold only one nationality, aren't convicted of any "outrageous offense," and who are married to citizens, are eligible to run.
This controversial item drew criticism from the Syrian opposition and other countries that support the opposition amid accusations that it was endorsed to fit Assad alone.
Issam Khalil, a member of the parliament, dismissed the allegations, contending that the electoral law in the United States stipulates that the candidate must have lived in the U.S. for 14 years.
The Arab League-UN peace envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi warned, in a recent speech before the UN Security Council, that if presidential elections go ahead in the coming months, it could jeopardize peace talks between the government and the opposition.
However, Syria's permanent envoy to the UN, Bashar al-Jaafari, defended his country's stance, saying that elections in any country are "an internal affair."
Jaafari said that Syria would not allow for a "constitutional vacuum" for outside governments to exploit, accusing them encouraging bloodshed.
The Syrian opposition abroad rejected the new electoral law, which has basically shunned all opposition figures by stipulating that the candidate must have lived in Syria over the past 10 years. They also strongly oppose the idea that Assad might run for another term.
Even before the war started most of Syria's opposition figures lived in exile, others left the country during the beginning of the war.
The Syrian government has repeatedly blasted countries that called on Assad to step down, saying such demands encroach upon Syria's sovereignty and the Syrian people's rights of self- determination.
Following the death of Assad's father, former President Hafez Assad, in 2000, the Syrian parliament unanimously nominated Assad to be president.
Assad was re-elected without opposition in 2007 to a second term. He won overwhelming, scooping up 97.62 percent of votes in a nationwide referendum in which he was the sole contestant.
Observers believe that Assad is likely to be reelected as no one has so far shown intention to run against him.