Leftist MP becomes Assad's first presidential challenger

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Al-Akhbar Management

Published Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A leftist 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 Mohammed Lahham as saying.

Born in the main northern city of Aleppo in 1968, Hajjar was a member of the Syrian Communist Party until 2000, when he joined the Popular Will party of Qadri Jamil, state television said.

Jamil served as deputy foreign minister until October 2013 when Assad fired him and he moved to Moscow.

Hajjar "took part in the peaceful, popular movement at the start of the crisis," it added, referring to the demonstrations against Assad that erupted in March 2011.

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.

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.



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