Syria, the war-torn country is headed to the polls today (Wednesday), with analysts anticipating Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will win a fourth term.
The contentious election is the second since the commencement of a decade-long conflict that has claimed the lives of over 388,000 people and displaced half of the country’s pre-war population.
Huge election posters praising Assad have appeared throughout the country’s government-controlled two-thirds.
With foreign opponents forbidden from competing and no voting in swaths of areas outside of his authority, Assad is up against just two virtually unknown candidates.
Voting began at 7:00 a.m. (0400 GMT) as scheduled, according to the official news agency SANA, and state television showed large lines developing in several sections of the nation.
Syrians may vote at over 12,000 polling stations, with results anticipated to be published by Friday evening, 48 hours after the polls shut.
The election is taking place in the midst of the lowest levels of violence since 2011 — but in the midst of a free-falling economy.
Over 80% of the population lives in poverty, and the Syrian pound has plummeted in value against the dollar, causing inflation to soar.
“Hope through work,” Assad’s campaign motto, conjures the massive renovation required to restore the nation, which will cost billions of dollars.
After the death of his father, Hafez, who governed Syria for 30 years, Assad, a 55-year-old ophthalmologist by training, was first elected by referendum in 2000.
He is up against Abdallah Salloum Abdallah, a former state minister, and Mahmoud Merhi, a member of the so-called “tolerated opposition,” which exiled Opposition leaders have long regarded as an extension of the dictatorship.
Assad has avoided campaign media appearances and interviews.
On top of a series of laws aimed at improving economic circumstances, he declared a nationwide amnesty for thousands of convicts earlier this month.
On Tuesday, Syrian Interior Minister Mohammad Khaled al-Rahmoun said that 18 million Syrians living in Syria and abroad were eligible to vote.
However, with large swaths of Syria outside of Assad’s authority and many refugees excluded, the real number of voters will certainly be fewer.
Thousands of Syrian refugees and expats cast early ballots at their host nations’ embassies last week.
Syrians who left the country illegally and did not have a departure stamp in their passport were, nonetheless, denied the right to vote.
Several nations opposed to Assad, including Turkey and Germany, which both have big Syrian refugee populations, banned the vote entirely
The elections were “neither free nor fair,” according to the United States and the European Union, and Syria’s fragmented opposition has dubbed the whole fuss h a “farce.”
In response, opposition activists distributed fake campaign posters criticizing Assad in Syria’s rebel-held northwest, which is home to three million people.