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AKIPRESS.COM - Damascus started campaigning for the presidential elections on Sunday. A day earlier, the country's supreme constitutional court gave candidates, Maher Hajjar, Hassan Nouri and incumbent President Bashar al-Assad the go-ahead to start campaigning on Sunday until June 2, a day ahead of the June 3 elections.
Sunday's campaigns mark the first time in the 40 years of Assad family rule over the country that Syrians are able to witness campaigns for other candidates other than Assad for the presidency. The multi-candidate poll is a result of the recent 2012 constitution that put an end to Syria's one candidate referendums, Xinhua reported.
Assad, who won the last election in which he was the sole candidate, is campaigning under the slogan "Sawa," or "together" in Arabic. The Facebook page for the campaign has already garnered more than 70,000 followers since it was created on Saturday.
Nouri, a former minister under Assad, has focused his campaign on countering corruption, while Hajjar, a Syrian parliamentarian, highlighted the martyrs and "the free will of the people" in his campaign. Both of them are not widely known by the public.
Despite a strong show of support for Assad and the government- sponsored elections in the capital, Syria's opposition has continued to reject the legitimacy of the process amid the ongoing crisis in the country.
"There are millions of Syrians internally and externally displaced and in other areas where they can't participate in the voting process," Anas al-Joudeh, a leading opposition member of the Building Syria State party, told Xinhua. "This presidential vote would bear no legitimacy if the Syrians were unable to take part in it," he said.
According to Joudeh the elections are unlikely to solve the crisis in Syria and will retain the status quo, pushing the country into a "static phase."The Building Syria State party has chosen to boycott the elections, calling instead for Assad to extend his term and focus on a political solution, an inclusive approach that reaches out to all political parties and even armed rebel militias.
The Syrian army has recently made a series of decisive victories over rebel forces in a strategic effort to gain as much ground as it can ahead of the vote.
The army's latest achievement was in the central province of Homs, where it concluded a deal with besieged rebels in a few opposition-held areas. Under the deal more than 2,000 rebels evacuated the city in exchange for safe passage out of the city of Homs, a symbolic neighborhood for the Syrian opposition.
Still, other Syrian provinces continue to endure intense battles between rebel forces and army troops. Observers say residents in these areas struggle to attain access to basic necessities, making it extremely unlikely for them to venture out to reach the polling stations in government-controlled areas.
The Syrian crisis started in mid-March 2011 when anti- government protesters took to the streets calling for reforms. But it rapidly evolved into a bloody civil war that has so far killed more than 150,000 people and displaced about a third of Syria's population.