Even as the civil war rages on, campaign posters and banners for presidential candidates have begun to fill the streets of Damascus leading up to a remarkable event that will take place June 3-the first multi-candidate election for president since the Assad family began their rule 40 years ago.
This year President Bashar Al-Assad will face opposition from two candidates representing newly formed parties. In past campaigns and elections, only one presidential candidate was in the running. In 2012, the General Elections Law in Syria changed, putting an end to single-candidate referendums. The new strict guidelines require candidates to be at least 40 years of age, Muslim, of Syrian Arab nationality through both parents, and not married to a non-Syrian. Candidates who have not lived in Syria for at least 10 years are ineligible.
President Al-Assad has announced his candidacy for the 7-year term, running under the campaign slogan “Sawa,” which means “Together.” Nouri, a former minister under Assad, is promising to counter corruption and improve economic growth, while Hajjar, a parliamentarian, is campaigning on “the free will of the people”, promising to improve wages and living conditions. All three candidates will be on the June ballot.
Nouri and Hajjar have only recently risen to prominence in the public arena, and Assad is poised to win the election, but the election process is considered by many to be a bright light in Syria’s future. Other parties will have seven years to raise up strong candidates for the next election. Exiled opposition groups outside Syria are unconvinced that real change will occur through this election, but politicians within the country are optimistic that this election signifies a new era of democracy in Syria.
Father, we do not know what this change in Syria means for Christians and other minority groups in Syria. We do not know what it means as the current civil war rages on. What we do know is that You are still God; the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Thank You for the comforting knowledge that Syrian Christians can experience Your incomprehensible peace, knowing that they are in Your care, that You are growing Your church there in spite of the ebb and flow of politics, and that You will sustain them. Daily grant them that peace, Father, as they turn to You. Fill them with strength to live each day as true followers of Jesus, and the compassion to reach out to their neighbors with mercy and the gospel, even in the midst of their own suffering. In the name of Jesus, our rock of hope, Amen.