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Pair of opponents for Assad named

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By The Los Angeles Times
Sunday, May 4, 2014, 8:00 p.m.

Syrian authorities on Sunday named two politicians from tolerated opposition groups as official contenders in June against an imposing incumbent: President Bashar Assad, the overwhelming favorite.

The presidential election scheduled for June 3 will be the first since Syria scrapped its previous referendum system in favor of direct voting.

The supreme constitutional court, which oversees the balloting process, whittled the official number of presidential contenders to three, including Assad. Previously, 24 prospective candidates had registered.

Few, if any, doubt that Assad, who is seeking his third seven-year term, will emerge with a landslide victory. He enjoys an extraordinary power of incumbency.

Opposition advocates have dismissed the elections as a sham designed to cement Assad's rule.

United Nations and United States officials have said the elections will make it less likely to end the war through diplomacy, which has made little headway since talks in Geneva ended without any progress earlier this year.

The major issue in any potential diplomatic solution is Assad's future. The Obama administration and its allies insist that he step down. But Russia, Iran and other nations backing the Syrian government say Assad's future is a decision for the Syrian people to make in free elections.

The two candidates who will oppose facing Assad are Maher Abdul-Hafiz Hajjar, 43, a former Communist Party activist and member of parliament who is said to be from a prominent religious family in the northern city of Aleppo; and Hassan Abdullah Nouri, 54, a Damascus native and former lawmaker who headed the nation's chamber of industry. Both are linked to opposition blocs recognized by the government.

Neither was reported to be associated with anti-government protests in 2011 that were the catalyst for the armed uprising against Assad's rule.

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