Syrian President Bashar Assad dismissed concerns over the upcoming presidential race in Syria on Saturday, claiming that the race will be democratic amidst a chorus of foreign criticism.
"The Syrian presidency... maintains an equal distance from all candidates in order that Syrians can choose their... president freely and transparently," Assad maintained, in a statement translated by AFP.
Candidates and Democracy
Meanwhile, presidential candidates have been announcing their intent to campaign in the June 3 elections.
According to Xinhua, at least one announcement is historic: the campaign of Sawsan Haddad, an engineer in the coastal city of Latakia - and the first female presidential candidate in Syria. Haddad emphasized that she is running independently - not as a representative of any political party.
Two lawmakers have also announced their intentions to campaign thus far: Abdul-Hafiz Hajjar, 43, a longtime communist party supporter; and Hassan al-Nouri, 54, a former minister.
All candidates still need to garner the 35 parliamentary signatures required to officially participate in the presidential race.
Assad has not yet announced his candidacy, but analysts expect him to run again for the position - and win.
Critics also note that while several candidates are expected to run against Assad, the elections do not leave all the options on the table for potential leadership in the war-torn country.
Syria's electoral law stipulates that all candidates must have lived in Syria for ten consecutive years prior to nomination - a condition which severely limits exiled opposition members, many of whom have been living outside Syria for years.
For critics, the rule confirms the international community's condemnations of the race, which the European Union called a "parody of democracy." 150,000 people have been killed in the three-year war between Assad's forces and rebel groups, and the announcement surfaced among rumors of more chemical attacks by Assad's forces against the Syrian people.
Syria's Foreign Ministry responded sharply to the criticism last Wednesday, claiming the decision to hold the election was a "purely sovereign" one and that foreign interference would not be tolerated.
"If these countries, foremost among them the Western nations, are calling for democracy and freedom, then they should listen to the views of Syrians and who they choose through the ballot box," state television quote the ministry as stating.