Syria lawmaker becomes first presidential challenger
DAMASCUS - Agence France-Presse
Members of the Syrian parliament attend a session to set a date for voting for the presidential election, in Damascus April 21,2014. REUTERS PhotoA communist lawmaker has registered as the first challenger for the Syrian presidency in an upcoming election expected to return incumbent Bashar al-Assad to power, the speaker of parliament said Wednesday.
"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's candidacy was announced two days after Lahham said Syria would hold a presidential election on June 3.
Hajjar was born in Aleppo in 1968 and has been a member of the Syrian Communist Party since 1984, the broadcaster said.
He "took part in the peaceful, popular movement at the start of the crisis," it added, referring to Arab Spring-inspired demonstrations against Assad that erupted in March 2011.
The protests escalated into an armed uprising in the face of a deadly crackdown by Assad loyalists, triggering a descent into civil war.
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 raging conflict.
It will be the first presidential election organised by the regime -- 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.