WASHINGTON/UNITED NATIONS - The United States has dismissed a Syrian plan to hold a presidential election on June 3 as a “parody of democracy”.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also criticized the plan, saying it could torpedo efforts to broker a deal to end the three-year civil war, which has killed 150,000.
Government forces have made gains recently, but rebels still control vast territories, diplomats said, adding it is unlikely that voting would be held in those areas.
President Bashar al-Assad is seeking a third seven-year term.
US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: “The Syrian regime under the Assads has never held a credible, free and fair election and has taken legal and administrative steps to ensure that this vote will not be fair.” Ban, the UN chief, warned that it would “damage the political process and hamper the prospects for a political solution”.
The three-year-old rebellion against Assad has resulted in the killing of more than 150,000 people, forced millions to flee their homes and caused the government to lose control over swathes of territory.
The government recently framed an election law that stipulated all candidates must have lived in Syria for the past 10 years. President Assad has hinted for more than a year that it was his right to run again. Even the UN-Arab League envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, said that, if it went ahead, the opposition “will probably not be interested in talking to the government”.
But the Geneva talks produced no results. And President Assad’s forces, backed by Hezbollah fighters, have recaptured territory in some strategic areas, including around Damascus.
Fighting is nevertheless intensifying in other areas, like Aleppo, as opposition groups get more and better arms from their backers. It is expected that more mortars will fall on Damascus, and other cities, as rebel fighters show their opposition to a poll they have been unable to stop. Most opposition leaders have fled the country, so are in effect barred from standing.
Opposition activist Ahmad Alqusair accused Assad of “holding elections over the blood of Syrians” and said only the president’s supporters would vote. Jay Carney, White House spokesperson: “He’s making a mockery.”
Parliamentary speaker Mohammed al-Lahham announced the election, and said overseas Syrians would be able to vote from May 28.