DAMASCUS (Dispatches) — Syrians headed to polling stations on Wednesday to vote in a presidential election expected to give President Bashar Assad a fourth seven-year term.
The vote is the second presidential election since the war on country began 10 years ago.
President Assad blasted countries that have dismissed the vote as illegitimate, saying most of those nations “have colonial history” and “we as a state are not concerned about such statements.”
He spoke Wednesday morning after casting his ballot in the Damascus suburb of Douma. The area was one of the main Western-backed terrorist strongholds in the country until it was retaken by government forces in 2018. It was the scene of an alleged poison gas attack in April 2018 that triggered strikes by the U.S., Britain and France, but dissident UN inspectors later said it was a fabrication.
“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,” Assad said.
The 55-year-old Assad arrived at the polling station with his wife, Asma, driving his own car.
Assad has been in power since 2000, when he took over from his father Hafez. Despite the war, which seemed at one point to threaten his ouster, Assad remained at the helm through the bitter years of takfiri havoc.
Two other figures, Abdullah Salloum Abdullah and Mahmoud Ahmad Marie, are also running for the country’s top post.
Starting at 7 a.m., thousands began arriving at polling stations in Damascus, thronging streets.
“I am here to vote because it is a national duty to choose a president who will lead us in the coming period,” said civil servant Muhannad
Helou, 38, who said he voted for Assad.
No vote will be held in northeast Syria, which is occupied by U.S.-backed Kurdish militants, or in the northwestern province of Idlib that is the last major terrorist stronghold in the country.
The vote this year comes as Syria’s economy is suffering a result of a decade of war, Western sanctions, and the financial crisis in Lebanon, Syria’s main link with the outside world.
The Biden administration has said it will not recognize the result of the Syrian election unless the voting is free, fair, supervised by the United Nation and represents all of Syrian society.
Syria’s Interior Minister Muhammad Rahmoun said 12,102 polling stations were set up in all the Syrian governorates. He said there are more than 18 million eligible voters in Syria and abroad. Syrians living abroad voted last week.
Syria had a population of 23 million before the conflict broke out a decade ago. 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.
The war broke out in 2011 when protests against the government turned into an armed insurgency by terrorists trickling through Turkish, Jordanian and Iraqi borders from around the world.