Syrians Vote In Presidential Poll
Syrians are voting in a presidential election which the incumbent Bashar al-Assad is widely expected to win.
Voting is only taking place in government-controlled territories, meaning those displaced by fighting or living in rebel-held areas will not be able to take part.
The opposition has dismissed the vote as a “farce” that will prolong the country’s three-year conflict. The vote excludes regime opponents from running.
Tuesday’s controversial vote is Syria’s first election in nearly 50 years, with Assad and his father Hafez renewing their mandates in successive referendums.
Al Jazeera’s Rula Amin, reporting from the Al Masnaa border crossing in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley on Tuesday, said: “The displaced Syrians who are in Lebanon, if they go in today [to Syria] they will risk losing their status as refugees in Lebanon.
“The opposition says this is a farce, they don’t recognise these elections. They say there is no way it could be legitimate while civil war is raging in the country, while it’s being organised by the same president they want to overthrow.
“If you talk to regular Syrians, many of them have come to the conclusion, whether they support Assad or oppose him, he has prevailed in the last three years, and know he is going to win the seven-year term which is going to further complicate the process to form a new transitional government away from the current regime.”
Syrian television showed Assad casting his ballot at a school in the Damascus neighbourhood of al-Maliki. He was accompanied by his wife, Asma.
Assad faces two virtually unknown competitors – Maher al-Hajjad and Hassan al-Nuri.
Nuri, who studied in the US and speaks English, told the AFP news agency he expected to come second after Assad.
Both he and Hajjar have only lightly criticised Assad’s rule, for fear of being linked to an opposition that has been branded “terrorist” by the regime. The two men are, instead, focusing on corruption and economic policy.
The vote takes place as the war continues, with the air force bombarding rebel areas in Aleppo and fierce fighting in Hama, Damascus, Idlib and Daraa.
More than 15 million Syrians will be able to cast their vote in 11,000 ballot boxes distributed in more than 9,000 offices, which will be open from 7am to 7pm local time.
Al Jazeera’s Roula Amin said Syrians “are adamant they have to deal with this reality” .
“That is why these people crossing into Syria vote feel they arre doing it only to manage their daily lives, meaning they don’t want to lose their chance to go back to Syria, or maybe lose their passport, or having their family pay a price if they don’t vote.”
Observers from countries allied to the regime – North Korea, Iran and Russia – are supervising the election, while a security plan has reportedly been put in place in Syrian cities to prevent possible attacks against voters and polling stations.