By Mick Krever, CNN
The task: Challenge a dictator in the middle of a devastating civil war that has killed well over 100,000 people.
That’s what facing the two candidates running against Bashar al-Assad in Syria; the government announced elections due to take place on June 3.
“I hope Assad will go and I will take his position,” Hassan al-Nouri, one of the two approved candidates, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday. “This is why I'm running for this election.”
Maybe so, but pre-war elections in Syria have usually been nothing more than a simple referendum on Assad’s rule.
“Let me tell you, this is Syria,” he told Amanpour. “In Syria, we have a constitution [which requires] a new presidential election 60 days before the end of the current president's time.”
“And I do believe that this is our right; this is our freedom. We own our decisions. This is a national decision.”
The election, he says, is an opportunity to showcase his vision for the country. But that vision differs little from President Assad’s when it comes to fighting those in the country who wish to see the government toppled.
“I am criticizing the president in many different areas,” he said. “I was member of his government.”
“And you know, I spent only two years as a minister of administrative development. You know why they kick me out? They kick me out because they couldn't handle what I was saying, and how I was criticizing his government.”
“But I cannot stand against Assad on the way of fighting terrorism in Syria.”
Al-Nouri was raised in the United States, he said, and is still often referred to as a “Wisconsin Badger.”
His chances of winning next month’s elections, he said, “are not bad.”
“I'm not saying that my chances are better than President Assad. But I can see that I am doing fine until now in this campaign.”
Is the fact that huge parts of the country will be unable to vote, Amanpour asked, good for his chances?
“I wish the situation was better, and of course it's not good enough for me,” he said. “You know, the number of people who are able to vote in Syria [is] probably between 14 million and 15 million,” out of a total of a little more than 22 million.
“Let's see what is the percentage that will go to vote. In our constitution, this percentage should be fifty plus one. If not, then the election probably will not be approved.”