Syria To Hold Presidential Election in 18 Months: U.N. Envoy

Syria Assad Election
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during an interview with AFP in the capital Damascus on February 11. Syrians could soon have the chance to decide whether or not to keep him in power. Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

The U.N. envoy to Syria said on Friday that he sees a presidential election being held in the civil war-torn country in 18 months, Reuters reported, citing Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.

In an interview with RIA, Staffan de Mistura said that the start of the process towards new elections would be the next round of peace talks between the Syrian government and the main Syrian opposition council, scheduled for March 14 in Geneva.

"The most important point is the three-point agenda, which has been defined by the Security Council and which the Russian Federation adopted, too, which is resolution 2254. The first one is an all-inclusive new government," de Mistura said.

"The second one is a new constitution and the third one is new elections in 18 months from the beginning of the talks, so from the 14th of this month, to provide both parliamentarian and presidential elections and the UN supervision in 18 months," he added. "So my hope is that we may progress—on paper or not on paper—but to progress on, at least, the first item during the first phase of these talks."

Such elections could solve the major stumbling block in the peace talks: What will happen to President Bashar al-Assad? Western nations and Sunni powers are lobbying for his removal via a transition to another government; Syria's allies Iran and Russia say that it is for the Syrian people to decide whether or not he remains in office.

Syria is to enter its sixth year of war next week. At the beginning of the Arab Spring, protesters took to the streets against Assad, leading to a brutal crackdown by the Alawite leader. Years later, the spiral of conflict has left more than 270,000 people dead and displaced millions of people.

A ceasefire backed by the U.S. and Russia has largely held amid accusations of violations on both sides. Next week's U.N.-sponsored talks, while planned, have not been confirmed by the Syrian government or the opposition.

According to diplomats, major powers close to the talks are discussing the possibility of federalizing Syria, giving separate regions autonomy while maintaining Syria as a united state.

"While insisting on retaining the territorial integrity of Syria, so continuing to keep it as a single country, of course there are all sorts of different models of a federal structure that would, in some models, have a very, very loose center and a lot of autonomy for different regions," one diplomat told Reuters.