The speaker of Syria's parliament has announced that a presidential election will be held on June 3. Incumbent President Bashar al Assad has said he will seek a third term, despite the bloody three-year civil war in his country.
The announcement that the Syrian government would go ahead with presidential elections coincided with the sound of warplanes over the capital and violence in and around all five of Syria's major cities.
Parliament Speaker Jihad al Laham made the long-awaited announcement despite skepticism from many that it would be possible to hold an election amid raging battles across much of the country.
Laham says in accordance with the Syrian constitution and the 2014 electoral law, he is calling on Syrian citizens both inside and outside the country to exercise their right to elect the president of the Syrian Republic," said Laham. "He stresses that those who would like to run for president have until May 1 to present their candidacies to the Supreme Court.
Laham's annoucement was greeted with rounds of Katyusha rockets, fired by rebel fighters outside the capital Damascus. The Syrian government news agency SANA reported that five people were killed by rocket fire around the parliament building and the health ministry.
A spokesman for the Free Syrian Army told al Arabiya TV that the rocket fire was aimed at the parliament and the nearby Syrian Army officer's club. He added that it was possible that civilian targets were “accidentally hit” by the rockets.
Syria scholar Joshua Landis, who heads the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, said the announcement of the election given the current circumstance is almost ironic.
“We used to laugh at (Syrian) elections won by 99 percent," said Landis. "Today, you just have to cry. It would be laughable, if it weren't so tragic.”
A former U.S. ambassador to Syria, Richard Murphy, tells VOA that it is “predictable that Bashar al Assad would present himself as a presidential candidate.” And, he says, it is “even more predictable he will easily win this election.”
Murphy says that is because the opposition is fragmented and will is unlikely to support a single candidate. Plus, with so many Syrians internally displaced or taking refuge in other countries, it will be hard to get an accurate vote count. He adds, “the Assads don't lose elections.”