Russian pressure? Assad is ready for elections

On heels of report revealing Russia agreed to turn its back on Assad and have him exiled, Assad says he has 'no problem' with elections.

Arutz Sheva Staff,

Bashar Al-Assad
Bashar Al-Assad

Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has said that he is willing to hold early presidential elections if the Syrian people want them, in remarks released Thursday.

"Is there popular will to hold early presidential elections? If there is, I don't have a problem with it," Assad told Russian state news agency RIA Novosti, according to an Arabic-language transcript provided by Damascus.

Assad's seven-year term is set to end in 2021, but a peace process backed by world powers envisages UN-monitored parliamentary and presidential elections within the next 18 months.

The despot's willingness to hold elections and potentially lose power comes at a curious timing, as the UK-based Al-Hayat paper just published a report indicating that the US and Russia - Assad's key backer - have agreed to dethrone him.

According to the report, which cited a UN Security Council diplomat who leaked the basic outline of the agreement, Russia promised to turn its back on Assad and give in to the demands of the Syrian opposition.

The US and Russia apparently agreed to have Assad step down and be sent into exile, although specifics about implementing the plan remain unclear.

Syria last held a presidential poll in June 2014, when Assad was re-elected for a seven-year term with 88.7% of the vote. At the time, polling took place only in government-controlled territory and in several dozen countries that have not cut diplomatic ties with Syria's government, including Lebanon.

Assad said all Syrian citizens would have the opportunity to vote in a future presidential vote.

"It would include every Syrian, whether he is inside Syria or outside Syria... Every Syrian citizen in every part of the world has the right to vote," he said in the interview.

Since Syria's conflict erupted in March 2011, more than 270,000 people have been killed and nearly five million have fled the country.

AFP contributed to this report.