DAMASCUS, April 21 (Xinhua) -- Syria's parliament on Monday voted to hold presidential elections on June 3, despite objections by opposition leaders who see the vote as "inadequate."
During an emergency session held Monday, Parliament Speaker Jihad Laham said the Higher Constitutional Court will start accepting applications on April 22 to register presidential candidates for the country's first multi-candidate poll since the adoption of current constitution.
The election announcement has angered the opposition, as well as Western powers and their regional allies, who have labeled the upcoming poll a "parody of democracy."
Opposition leaders questioned the integrity and transparency of conducting elections during an ongoing war that has transformed many Syrian cities and suburbs into battlefields, which would make voting in these areas extremely difficult.
They also stressed the country has millions of displaced people in neighboring countries, many of whom don't have access to basic necessities, let alone access to polling stations.
Laham was defiant against criticisms of the decision. "We are announcing the presidential elections on time, not caring about what others outside Syria may say to undermine our self-confidence and... to confuse the Syrians," he said, adding that the elections would be supervised by the Syrian legal system.
Before the election date announcement, Syria's parliament had adopted a general election bill, which stipulates that any candidate for presidency must have lived in Syria for 10 consecutive years prior to nomination, a condition which severely limits exiled opposition members, many of whom have been living outside Syria for years.
Government officials maintained that President Bashar al-Assad, who has ruled Syria for almost 14 years, still enjoys popular support despite the three-year-old conflict, adding that he is the "real guarantee" for Syria.
Assad himself, whose second term will expire on July 17, has not yet announced whether he will run for re-election, but he has reportedly expressed interest in running again for a third seven- year term.
Observers believe that Assad is likely to be reelected as he faces no challengers. Rebel infighting and division among the opposition, mainly in eastern Syria, also benefits his government, which is making strides in the battles against the armed militant groups.
His administration has stressed that the Syrian troops will keep fighting "terrorism" until security and stability is restored.
However, violence continues to disrupt the daily lives of Syrians. On Monday, the day the elections were announced, mortar rounds slammed into several areas of Damascus, killing many people.
Two Syrian domestically-based opposition groups, namely the National Coordination Body (NCB) and the Building Syria State, said the time is not suitable for presidential elections, and that such elections will not contribute to solving the Syrian crisis that has left more than 150,000 dead.
Hasan Abdul-Azim, of the NCB, told Xinhua in a recent interview that even if the presidential elections do take place, "the problems will persist and the bloody conflict, as well as the destruction and displacement, will also persist."
He stressed that his group will not run in the elections nor participate in them.
Abdul-Azim said a political solution should first be reached during the internationally-backed peace negotiations in Geneva.
The first two rounds of the Geneva meeting had failed to bring the two warring sides closer, and a third round has been planned but not yet scheduled.
Voting for Syrians inside the country will start on June 3, while overseas Syrians will cast their vote on May 28, Laham said.
UNITED NATIONS, April 21 (Xinhua) -- Top United Nations officials have cautioned that Syria's newly announced presidential elections have a risk of undermining efforts to achieve a political solution to the country's three-year-old conflict, a UN spokesman said here on Monday. Full story
DAMASCUS, April 21 (Xinhua) -- The Syrian Parliament on Monday opened registration for candidates for the upcoming presidential vote, the first multi-candidate election since adoption of the current constitution. Full story