CAIRO, EGYPT — Syria is holding presidential elections Tuesday, despite a deadly civil war that has left millions of Syrians unable or unwilling to vote.
Voters in areas controlled by Syria’s government went to the polls Tuesday, in an election set to give President Bashar al-Assad his third seven-year term.
Syria’s Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi urged people to vote, calling Tuesday a “historic day” for Syria that he said will put the country on the path to recovery.
Assad is up against two little-known, government-approved candidates with virtually no chance of success. One, former minister Hassan al-Nouri, made his role in the process clear.
“I am not an enemy of any of the two candidates. I consider myself a friend and a friend does not mean to compete. This is an honest contest for the sake of the country,” al-Nouri said.
- First multicandidate presidential election in decades
- Bashar al-Assad is running for a third term
- Two other candidates: Maher Hajjar and Hassan al-Nouri
- 15 million people are eligible to vote
- Voting is only taking place in areas under government control
- More than 9,000 polling stations are set up
- Some stations have pins so voters can prick their fingers to mark ballots in blood
- Opposition has rejected the election
With a civil war raging and calls by opposition forces and the United Nations not to hold the vote, no balloting took place in rebel-controlled areas.
Yet Syrian officials continued to describe the vote as a step toward stabilizing the nation.
Information Minister Omran al-Zoabi said, “The big majority of Syrians feel that this aggressive crisis should end and they must get out of what happened and that what was happening should not continue. The majority of Syrians are convinced that the key to the end of the crisis will be the presidential elections”
The opposition sees the crisis ending with Assad’s ouster. But what started as a peaceful Arab Spring uprising has turned into the government’s violent suppression of an increasingly sectarian, jihadist and international proxy war.
Elections or not, few expect the battle to end soon.
Rebel fighters have battled for more than three years to oust Assad from office.
He has been in power since 2000, when he became president following the death of his father. He was the only candidate on the ballot when he won his second term in 2007.
His forces carried out a crackdown against peaceful anti-government protests in March 2011, which came along with the wave of so-called Arab Spring demonstrations that were sweeping the region.
The fighting escalated into a war that activists say has killed more than 160,000 people. The United Nations says 2.8 million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries to escape the conflict, while 6.5 million others are displaced within Syria.
International efforts to resolve the conflict, including a face-to-face peace conference earlier this year, have yielded little result.
A Syrian soldier sits under the portrait of President Bashar al-Assad at a polling station in Damascus, June 3, 2014.
Women cast their votes in presidential elections at a polling station in Aleppo, Syira, June 3, 2014.
Syria’s presidential candidate Hassan al-Nouri accompanied by his wife Hazar casts his vote at polling centrer in Damascus, June 3, 2014.
A picture from the official Facebook page of Syria’s first lady Asma al-Assad shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad watching on as Asma casts her vote at a polling station in Maliki, Damascus, May 3, 2014.
A man holds a portrait of President Bashar al-Assad and a national flag at a polling station in Damascus, June 3, 2014.
A man votes for Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad on a ballot stamped with his blood, during the presidential election in Damascus, June 3, 2014.
A traffic police officer rests in front of a building with posters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, June 3, 2014.
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