Assad faces first presidential opponent in elections

Photo: Assad faces first presidential opponent in elections / Arab World

A Syrian lawmaker has registered as the first-ever challenger for the presidency in an upcoming election expected to return incumbent Bashar al-Assad to power, the speaker of parliament said Wednesday, Al Arabiya reported.

"We have received information from the higher constitutional court that member of parliament Maher Abdel Hafiz Hajjar has filed his candidacy for the post of president of the Syrian Arab Republic," state television quoted Mohammad Lahham as saying.

Hajjar, an independent MP, was born in Aleppo in 1968, the broadcaster said.

His candidacy was announced two days after Lahham said Syria would hold a presidential election on June 3.

Assad, who became president on the death of his father Hafez in 2000 and whose current term ends on July 17, is expected to stand and win another seven-year term despite the three-year-old civil war.

It will be Syria's first presidential election -- previously a referendum was held on a single candidate but that system was replaced by an amendment to the constitution.

Election rules require candidates to have lived in Syria for the last decade, effectively preventing key opposition figures in exile from standing.

The Syrian opposition has slammed the planned election as a "farce," while the United Nations and the Arab League have said it poses a major obstacle to efforts for a negotiated peace.

The conflict has killed more than 150,000 people and nearly half of Syria's population has been displaced.

Violence continues to ravage many parts of the country, even reaching the heart of the capital, which has come under repeated mortar fire by opposition fighters on its outskirts.

The government has not laid out how it plans to hold a credible election with large swathes of the country outside its control.

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