Envoy says Syria’s election breaches UN rules

Vote should take place under a new constitution with UN monitors

FILE - In this May 12, 2014 file photo, campaign posters for the upcoming presidential election adorn a street in Damascus, Syria. On Monday April 26, 2021, the Paris-based Syrian Network for Human Rights called on the international community to reject presidential elections in the war-torn country scheduled for May, describing them as a sham because they will take place under President Bashar Assad, who is implicated in war crimes. Arabic on the poster, right, reads, "Damascus spreads flowers for the loyal Bashar." The banner reads, "Together with Bashar Assad." (AP Photo, File)

UN peace envoy Geir Pedersen on Wednesday criticised Syria's coming presidential elections, saying a vote that will probably keep President Bashar Al Assad in power does not meet UN Security Council rules.

Mr Pedersen said next month’s election runs counter to a 2015 UN Security Council resolution that calls for presidential elections only after the drafting of a new constitution that allows for a free and competitive vote.

“The election has been called under the auspices of the current constitution, and is not part of the political process established by” the 2015 resolution, Mr Pedersen said at online council talks.

The vote should be held after the creation of a new constitution and be “administered under UN supervision to the highest international standards of transparency and accountability", he said.

“The UN is not involved in this election and has no mandate to be,” Mr Pedersen said.

The election, which will be held on May 26, with Syrians abroad voting on May 20, will be the second since the country’s civil war started a decade ago.

So far, more than two dozen candidates have applied to contest the poll.

According to Syria's 2012 constitution, those standing must have lived in Syria for the past 10 years, meaning most rival candidates are barred from opposing Mr Al Assad.

It also requires parliament – stacked with members of the ruling party – to approve candidates.

Mr Al Assad was elected to his seven-year term in 2014 with 88.7 per cent of the vote. His runner-up endorsed the campaign.

A UN-backed committee, comprising representatives of Mr Al Assad’s government, opposition and civil society, has met five times since October 2019 to draft a new constitution but has made little progress.

Mr Pedersen is working on holding a sixth meeting, but said talks must be “different from what has gone before – with some clear goals, credible working methods ... and a future work plan”.

Few analysts expect the committee to make real progress. Fighting in Syria has largely ceased and forces backing Mr Al Assad, with Russia and Iranian support, recaptured most of the country.

The president has little reason to seriously negotiate with opponents.

He also enjoys the support of veto-wielding council members Russia and China, which have repeatedly torpedoed western efforts to pressure Damascus.

The US, Britain, France and others say they will not recognise the voting results.

Russia’s UN ambassador Vasily Nebenzya said council members should not interfere in Syria’s domestic affairs.

“We lament the fact that some countries are up in arms against the very idea of the coming elections and have already declared them illegitimate,” Mr Nebenzya said.

“We urge them to stop creating a negative informational background for the future elections, which has nothing to do with the work of the constitutional committee.”

The Syrian Network for Human Rights, a Paris-based campaign group, this week described the elections as a sham and called on the international community to reject the results.

The group’s director, Fadel Abdul-Ghany, told the Associated Press that Syrians living in opposition areas or in Kurdish-held areas would not be able to vote in a Damascus-run process.