The other candidates in Syria's election

Two candidates, Maher Hajjar and Hassan Nouri, are running against President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s presidential elections, although it seems the results are a foregone conclusion.

al-monitor Election campaign posters for presidential candidates Maher Hajjar (R) and Hassan Nouri are seen along a street in Damascus, May 12, 2014.  Photo by REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki.

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syria, presidential election, homs, elections, damascus, bashar al-assad, aleppo

May 14, 2014

Maher Hajjar and Hassan Nouri, two candidates in Syria’s presidential elections, scheduled for June 3, spoke about their reasons for running against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Observers consider that the outcome of the elections is known in advance.

Syrian state TV interviewed Nouri yesterday [May 13] as part of a policy that state media outlets are trying to implement, by dedicating time to the candidates’ electoral campaigns.

Nouri seemed comfortable during his appearance on the official TV station, which lasted an hour and a half. He was smiling the whole time, as he read some passages of his electoral platform, made arguments and accepted criticism from the interviewer.

His platform included several paragraphs that “go in line with the general national constants” of the other candidates, according to him. He focused on the role of the Syrian army in protecting national unity and fighting internal and external terrorism, and used the term “the global war on Syria,” which is often used by the state media.

Nevertheless, Nouri said that he disagrees with the others over his vision for economic, social and development work. He called for [the adoption of] “economic pluralism through a genuine partnership” that prevents monopolies, and has criticized how the state encourages unbalanced development in some areas, which has led to economic and social instability.

The slogans that Nouri has raised seemed to match those repeated in the local media in general, in terms of the fight against corruption, the implementation of the concept of a free economy that enables the state to systematically interfere, and the development of the middle class. He stressed that he is merely a presidential candidate, not in direct competition [with Assad], and insisted that the most important thing in these elections is not the “seat,” but rather “the promotion of economic and social visions.” He considered that he will not lose, whatever the results turn out to be on June 3.

Nouri, who served as a minister in Assad’s first government for two years, said that the reform conditions were not ready at the time, and noted that ending the elections with “a clear strategic vision is enough.” Nouri stressed that he will “carry on to the end” and that he is “optimistic that [he] will get good results.”

This was also confirmed by Hajjar, the second presidential candidate, as he said that “the competition is absolutely serious for him.”

Hajjar told As-Safir that he is getting prepared to launch his platform very soon, through the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), just a few days after his first presidential campaign proclamation is aired on Syrian state TV.

Hajjar’s electoral campaign has focused on the slogan of “the powerful state.” In his proclamation, he noted the problems of unemployment, poverty and development, and terrorism. According to him, he had a different vision for the elections, which made him run for the presidency. He said that the ideology of the candidate is what is most important, and not the candidate in and of himself. He added that his main concern is not to be remembered as being among the first competitors to the presidency in Syria’s modern history, but to express “the ideas of his platform and to get closer to the aspiration of the Syrian people through his platform.”

Nouri and Hajjar hail from the two most important provinces in Syria, namely the Midan neighborhood in Damascus, and Aleppo, respectively. A large turnout is expected for the elections in Damascus, however. Aleppo faces a more important problem, as expectations are that regional efforts will be deployed to exclude Aleppo from the electoral process, whatever the cost may be.

In addition, presidential candidates’ posters are distributed in the streets of the secure cities, in coastal towns and some southern areas, and in Homs and Hama.

The government bodies examined the situation and conditions in several southern areas, particularly in the countryside of Daraa. They are also conducting campaigns to mobilize as many voters as they can in some cities, such as Idlib and Deir ez-Zour, in the wait for the High Commission for Elections to announce the official estimated number of voters.

Two days ago, the head of the commission, Hisham al-Shaar, told Al-Watan newspaper that “the commission is currently preparing the electoral register, and is communicating with the Ministry of Interior, to be provided with the names of those entitled to vote and those who are not.” He added, “In the next few days, the number of eligible voters will be counted.”

The fears remain that the majority of European countries will follow the example of Germany and France and prevent the opening of ballot boxes in Syrian embassies. Jordanian officials said yesterday that the government is considering a Syrian request in this regard, while it is still unclear whether or not Egypt will allow Syrian residents [to vote], given the Saudi pressure exerted on several Arab capitals to prevent [the voting].

Yesterday, there were calls on social networking sites to enable expatriates to vote online. The e-voting will be based on the collection of legal data of the residents of each country, and to call on them to vote. Yet, this possibility is unlikely to happen, for logistical and legal reasons.

The electoral campaigns are supposed to come to a halt 24 hours prior to the elections scheduled for June 3. The law on parliamentary elections stipulates that candidates shall not contest the candidacy of other candidates, defame them, incite against them or violate the privacy of their personal life. The candidates shall also preserve national unity, and ensure not to include sectarian, religious, ethnic, or tribal connotations in their electoral campaigns in a way that violates public order and morals.

The Assad campaign has taken over the Internet, through several Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram accounts. It was simple, prepared in advance, and used family photos that date back to an era triggering nostalgia among large groups in Syria, in light of the current circumstances.

For their part, Nouri and Hajjar do not have official social media accounts. Hajjar had previously told As-Safir that he has nothing to do with the social media pages speaking on his behalf or posting his photos. As for Nouri, there are many pages claiming to be his official page, and some are sarcastic. Yet, he has not issued any statement denying them so far. One of these fake pages even called for [a pre-electoral] presidential debate to take place between candidates, as is the case in Western countries.

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