Damascus, May 26 (EFE).- Syria’s Bashar al-Assad cast his vote in former rebel-held territory on Wednesday as presidential elections that he is almost certain to win got underway in government-controlled areas of the war-blighted country.
Assad urged displaced Syrians to return to their homes as he voted in Douma, a Damascus satellite that bears the scars of a brutal and ongoing civil war.
Douma was in the hands of armed opposition forces from the early days of the war in 2011 until 2018. Special permission is still required to enter the area.
Assad said the Syrian elections were a “sufficient” rebuttal to the criticism from “Western countries with colonial history.”
Syria’s exiled opposition as well as nations like France and the United States have rejected the elections as a “farce” designed to bolster Assad’s power. The election does not form part of the United Nations-brokered peace process.
Security was boosted in the capital Damascus as voters made their way to the polls.
Hundreds of students and staff lined up to cast their ballots at the University of Damascus.
“No-one can choose our future for us, it’s up to us to determine what we want and nobody else but the Syrian voter has the right to decide how we will build our country,” medical student Haitham, 21, told Efe.
Assad, in power since the death of his father in 2000, is running against contenders Salloum Abdullah, former deputy minister of parliamentary affairs, and Mahmoud Marei, a member of the Syrian opposition tolerated by Damascus.
Assad won with 88.7% of the votes in the last elections in 2014, when for the first time in half a century more than one candidate stood for election after the constitution was amended following protests in 2011.
The elections will not take place in much of Syria’s northwest, including Idlib, which remains under the control of a patchwork of rebel groups, some backed by Turkey, others affiliated with jihadist factions.
Nor will there be voting in the northeastern areas of Syria controlled by Kurdish forces. EFE