CAIRO, EGYPT— Syrians in parts of the country under government control are voting Tuesday in an election expected to give President Bashar al Assad a third seven-year term. Opposition leaders have denounced the vote, calling it a “farce”, and no voting will take place in those regions of the country under rebel control.
Syrian state TV continued to urge voters to turn out for Tuesday's election, showing video of long lines in front of some polling stations and interviewing voters waiting to cast their ballots.
President Bashar al Assad, whose family has controlled Syria since his father came to power in a bloodless coup in 1970, is facing two rival candidates for the first time in modern history. Both of his adversaries were chosen by the country's pro-government parliament and stand little chance of winning.
The embattled president, who has been trying to put down a three-year old uprising against his rule in which 150,000 people have died, was shown voting early at a Damascus polling station with his wife Asma. The smiling Assad chatted briefly with election officials.
Former Minister of Administrative Reform Hassan al Nouri, one of two candidates facing Assad, said he was surprised by the “heavy turnout,” and hinted the election might be extended until Wednesday. He stressed he is competing with Assad in a friendly way.
He insiste he was not an enemy of either candidate, but a friend and that friends did not mean to compete. He called the election an honest contest for the sake of the country.
Speaking for the government, Foreign Minister Walid al Muallem said the presidential election was the start of a return to normalcy in Syria.
He said the election marked the start of a political solution to the Syrian crisis. He insisted only the Syrian people had the right to confer legitimacy and that this day spelled the return of security and stability, on the path to rebuilding and holding reconciliation.
But opposition leader Ahmed Jarba warned of widespread bloodshed during the election and urged Syrians not to go out and vote.
He claimed the Syrian government and its allies intended to resort to violence by attacking various targets on election day, including polling stations, and he urged Syrians not fall victim to such a game, but to remain home and not go out [and vote].
But both the government and the opposition appeared to resort to violence. Amateur video showed government warplanes dropping barrel bombs over rebel-held regions of Damascus and Aleppo, while witnesses say rebels fired rockets at government-held areas, causing numerous casualties.