Polling stations opened on Wednesday across Syria in a presidential election that is set to usher Bashar al-Assad into a fourth term in office.
The government says the election shows Syria is functioning normally, despite the decade-old war.
But the opposition and Western nations view the exercise as a farce to rubber-stamp Assad’s grip on power.
The official news agency SANA declared voting had started as planned at 7:00 am (0400 GMT) and state television showed long queues forming in several parts of the country.
Syrians will be able to cast their ballot in more than 12,000 polling centers. Results are expected to be announced by Friday evening, 48 hours after polling closes.
The vote takes place amid the lowest levels of violence since the start of Syria’s deadly conflict in 2011 – but with an economy in free-fall.
The 55-year-old Assad, who has been in power since 2000, is sure to keep his job after the election, every aspect of which is controlled by him and his Baath party.
He faces former state minister Abdallah Salloum Abdallah and Mahmoud Merhi, a member of the so-called “tolerated opposition,” long described by exiled opposition leaders as an extension of the regime.
Exiled opposition figures were de facto ruled out by an electoral law that stipulates candidates must have lived in Syria continuously for at least the past decade.
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