Voters were heading to polling stations across government-held parts of Syria in an election that is set to cement a fourth seven-year term for incumbent President Bashar al-Assad.
The vote is the second presidential election since the country’s deadly conflict began a decade ago. The Arab country had a population of 23 million before the conflict broke out. The fighting has left nearly half a million dead and half the country’s population displaced, more than 5 million of them refugees outside Syria.
According to Syria’s Interior Minister Mohammad Rahmoun there are more than 18 million eligible voters in Syria and abroad. Syrians living abroad voted last week.
In 2014, al-Assad, an opthamologist by trade, won nearly 89 percent of the vote, with turnout at more than 73%. In 2000, he took over the presidency from his father, Hafez Assad, who died. ruled before that for 30 years.
In order to run for president, candidates must be at least 40 years old and have Syrian citizenship by birth. The candidates are not allowed to have dual citizenship or be married to a foreign national.
Candidates must have lived in Syria for at least 10 years prior to the election, and are barred from office if they are convicted of a crime.
In addition to Assad -whose “Hope Through Work” electoral campaign heavily focused on creating jobs- former state minister of parliamentary affairs Abdullah Salloum Abdullah and Mahmoud Ahmad Marei, head of the National Democratic Front, a small, state-endorsed opposition party are also running for the presidency.
Forty-eight other presidential aspirants had submitted requests for candidacy, but their applications were rejected by the Syrian Supreme Constitutional Court for not meeting the legal and constitutional requirements.
Assad spoke Wednesday (May 26) morning after casting his ballot in the Damascus suburb of Douma, where he arrived with his wife, Asma, driving his own car.
“The vote that we are performing today would not have happened had it not been for the thousands of martyrs that fell while defending the land and people,” the 55-year-old said.
France, Germany, Italy, Britain and the United States on Tuesday dismissed the vote as illegitimate,
Addressing his critics, Assad said most of those nations “have colonial history” and “we as a state are not concerned about such statements.”
No vote will be held in northeast Syria, where U.S. backed Kurdish-led forces administer an autonomous oil-rich region, or in the northwestern province of Idlib where Turkey-backed factions administer the last rebel enclave.
Iran, Russia and Belarus, sent delegations to monitor the election.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has won a fourth term in office after having obtained 95.1% of the votes.
Hammouda Youssef Sabbagh, who serves as the speaker of the Syrian parliament, announced the results at a news conference on Thursday (May 27), saying voter turnout was around 78%, with more than 14 million Syrians taking part.
“Thank you to all Syrians for their high sense of nationalism and their notable participation…. for the future of Syria’s children and its youth let’s start from tomorrow our campaign of work to build hope and build Syria,” Assad said in a statement.
With reporting by Al Jazeera, AP, DW, Reuters