The Associated Press
Syrians are voting on Tuesday in their country's first multicandidate presidential election. Previous votes were referendums in which Bashar Assad, and before him his father, Hafez, were the only names on the ballot and Syrians voted yes or no. Despite the presence of challengers on this year's ballots, there's little doubt that Assad will secure a third seven-year term. Here's a brief look at the candidates:
-- PRESIDENT BASHAR ASSAD: The 48-year-old Assad has led Syria since 2000, taking over as president after the death of his father, Hafez, who ruled the country for some 30 years. Assad, who trained in London as an ophthalmologist, came to power through a twist of fate: His older brother Basil had been groomed to succeed their father but was killed in a car crash in 1994, leaving Bashar as the next in line. After assuming office, Assad initially showed promise as a reformer following his father's autocratic government, but those hopes faded before being almost forgotten entirely in the carnage of the civil war. Assad's family comes from the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, and the community has played in integral role in supporting the government over the course of the rebellion.
-- HASSAN AL-NOURI: The 64-year-old Damascus businessman was little known to the wider public in Syria before declaring his candidacy in April. Educated in the United States, where he earned advanced degrees in business and management, al-Nouri briefly served as a member of parliament and then as minister of state for administrative development from 2000 to 2002.
-- MAHER HAJJAR: Hajjar, 46, has been a parliament member representing his hometown of Aleppo for the past two years. But like al-Nouri, he was a virtual unknown in Syria until the election. For more than a decade, he was a member of the Syrian Communist Party, which has long been tolerated by the government. He split with the party in 2000 and formed, along with other disaffected party members, the National Committee for the Unity of the Communists.
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