Syrian President Bashar Assad declared his candidacy Monday for a new seven-year term in June presidential elections, more than three years into a revolt against his rule that has killed more than 150,000 people, uprooted another 9 million and touched off a humanitarian crisis. At least half of the 9.5 million people displaced by the Syrian civil war are children. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, says protecting them should be a priority for the international community. While Assad had long suggested he would seek re-election, the official announcement put to rest any illusions that the man who has led Syria since 2000 has any intention of relinquishing power or finding a political solution to the conflict. Rather, he appears emboldened by a series of military victories in recent months that have strengthened his once tenuous grip on power.
The Syrian opposition and its Western allies have denounced the June 3 election as a sham designed to lend Assad, who is widely expected to win, a patina of electoral legitimacy. And it remains unclear how the government intends to hold any kind of credible vote when the country is engulfed in a civil war.
Vast areas of the country, including most of northern Syria, lie outside government control. Hundreds of thousands of people live in territory that is either contested, held by rebels or blockaded by pro-government forces. More than 2.5 million people have fled the country.
The government has presented the ballot box as the solution to the conflict: If the people choose Assad in the election, the fight should end; if Assad loses, he will gracefully step aside.