BEIRUT (Dispatches) – Thousands of Syrians living in Lebanon have flocked to their country’s embassy near Beirut to cast ballots in early voting ahead of next week’s presidential election in the war-torn country.
Embassy staff and Lebanese soldiers on Thursday struggled to control the crowds, many of whom carried banners in support of incumbent President Bashar al-Assad.
Al-Assad’s supporters, stretching for well over a kilometer, chanted “God! Syria! Bashar!” and “We’d sacrifice ourselves for you, soul and blood, Bashar”, as they tried to shove their way past the troops to enter the embassy in Baabda.
In mid-April, Syrian embassies in Lebanon, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and a handful of other countries posted forms on their social media channels allowing expatriates and refugees to register to vote.
Those residing in Syria will vote on May 26.
This is Syria’s second presidential election since the beginning of its war with foreign-backed terrorists a decade ago. Al-Assad, who secured 88.7 percent of the vote in Syria’s last presidential election in 2014, is widely expected to win a fourth seven-year term.
Al-Assad is running against two opposition candidates, former state minister of parliamentary affairs Abdullah Salloum Abdullah, and Mahmoud Ahmad Marei, who heads the National Democratic Front, a small, opposition party.
Syrian Ambassador to Lebanon Abdul Kareem Ali praised the election, telling local television station Al Jadeed: “What is happening should please both Syrians and Lebanese.”
One woman who arrived at the embassy from Hermel, in northeast Lebanon, at 8am sat with her seven children away from the crowd.
“We want al-Assad, and God wants him too,” the woman, who left her hometown of Raqqa in 2015, told Al Jazeera. “We lived in stability under his Excellency,” she said, adding that her home in Syria had been destroyed.
A man draped in a Syrian flag told Al Jazeera he hoped to return to his hometown south of Idlib – in areas reclaimed by the Syrian army and allies Russia and Lebanese resistance group Hezbollah and Iran – “once they finish clearing all the mines”. Elsewhere, a middle-aged man waved his open ballot at cameras as he ran towards a ballot box.
Videos have also circulated showing Syrian buses and convoys of pro-Assad voters being attacked by anti-Assad Lebanese wielding sticks. A video showed the aftermath of an attack with Lebanese security forces standing near a car with smashed windows in Beirut’s Sassine Square. Attacks have also been reported in Jounieh, north of Beirut.