The People’s Assembly in Syria announced that presidential elections will be held next month, in a move likely to keep power in the hands of President Bashar al-Assad.
Assad is not expected to face serious competition for his position, despite the ongoing armed conflict and the deepening economic crisis gripping the country.
After 10 years of fighting, the government controls most of the major population centers in Syria.
About 400,000 people have been killed in the armed conflict, and the battles have driven more than half of the population from their homes.
The Speaker of the People’s Assembly, Hammouda Sabbagh, announced that the process of electing a president, for a new term of seven years, will take place on May 26. The candidacy window opens from tomorrow, Monday. Syrians living abroad are due to vote at embassies on May 20.
This is the second presidential election to be held since the beginning of the armed conflict. The first elections were held in 2014, and ended with Assad winning with 92 percent of the vote. But the Syrian opposition described it as undemocratic and illegal, and its result was rejected by the United States and the European Union as well.
The 2014 elections were the first in which candidates from outside the Assad family participated. But the other two candidates at the time were not popular, and they did not get much publicity.
The armed conflict in Syria erupted after the authorities’ violent suppression of peaceful popular protests calling for democracy, which prompted the opposition to take up arms.
The battles spread throughout the country, and armed groups, some of them Islamic extremists, were involved.
Foreign powers intervened in the conflict as well, some in defense of the government and others in support of the opposition.
The forces supporting the government have regained control of most of the country, while a fragile ceasefire agreement between the government and the armed opposition that still controls Idlib Governorate, in the northwest of the country, is in effect.
The country is also reeling under the weight of a stifling economic crisis that has led to a significant rise in food prices and a sharp collapse in the value of the Syrian currency, which the government attributes to Western sanctions.
The UN special envoy to Syria, Geir Pederson, said last month that he saw a “rare opportunity” to establish a ceasefire at the national level because the front lines were no longer changing.
But Pederson added that the loss of this opportunity will lead to the continuation of the war for another decade, calling on the parties to the conflict to adopt a gradual approach to building confidence in order to reach a negotiated solution.
Pederson is working on a plan to reform the Syrian constitution, as part of a political process that ultimately leads to elections under the supervision of the United Nations.
But he said in January that no tangible progress had been made because there was no “real engagement” on the part of Syria.
This came after accusations made by the United States and other Western countries against Syria of intentionally delaying the drafting of a new constitution in order to avoid holding presidential elections in 2021 under the auspices of the United Nations.