Syria holds presidential elections as war rages on

Main opposition boycotts election, describing it as 'theatre written with the blood of Syrians'

Syrian activists splash paint on President Assad's election posters
(Image credit: AMMAR ABD RABBO/AFP/Getty Images)

Voting in Syria's presidential election takes place today, three years into a civil war in which more than 160,000 people have died.

There is little doubt that President Bashar al-Assad will win a third seven-year term in office and Syrian officials have gone to great lengths to present the vote as a way to resolve the crisis.

For the first time in the country's history there is more than one candidate competing for the top job. But Sherine Tadros, Middle East correspondent for Sky News, says the poll "is not about democracy, but rather a show of force by Assad".

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The other two candidates – Maher Hajjar and Hassan al-Nouri – are not widely known and have little chance of winning. A restrictive election law makes it more or less impossible to run without government approval and the country's Supreme Court has already disqualified 21 candidates from the race.

"To vote for anything other than Bashar al-Assad is to sign your own death warrant and that of your family, and not to vote at all means you are forfeiting your chance of any kind of future in Syria," says Diana Darke in The Guardian.

Voting will only take place in government-held territory and opposition fighters have warned they will try to disrupt the vote. The Syrian National Coalition, the main opposition group, is boycotting the election, with its leader Ahmad al-Jarba describing the election as "theatre written with the blood of Syrians". He also accused Assad of planning to bomb and shell polling stations in order to blame the opposition.

Polling stations opened at 7.00am local time and will close at 7.00pm, although voting might be extended for five hours if there is a big turnout.

One in five Syrians have been left in abject poverty, with scarcely the means to meet their basic food needs, while millions of people have fled the country, with Syrians now the largest refugee population in the world.

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