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.
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.