Syrians vote in wartime election set to extend Assad's rule
By Marwan Makdesi
DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Syrians voted on Tuesday in an election expected to deliver an overwhelming victory for President Bashar al-Assad but which his opponents have dismissed as a charade in the midst of Syria's devastating civil war.
Rebel fighters, the political opposition in exile, Western powers and Gulf Arabs say no credible vote can be held in a country where swathes of territory are outside state control and millions have been displaced by conflict.
State television showed long queues of people waiting to vote at polling stations in areas under state control, as well as crowds waving flags and portraits of the president. Assad, looking relaxed and wearing a dark blue suit and light blue tie, voted at a central Damascus polling station with his wife Asma.
For many Syrians politics took second place to the yearning for stability after three years of war that have killed more than 160,000 people.
"We hope for security and stability," said Hussam al-Din al Aws, an Arabic teacher who was the first person to vote at a polling station at a Damascus secondary school. Asked who would win, he responded: "God willing, President Bashar al-Assad."
Islamist insurgents battling to overthrow the 48-year-old president, who has ruled Syria since succeeding his father 14 years ago, dismissed the vote as "illegitimate".
But the Islamic Front and allied groups pledged not to target polling stations and urged other rebels to do the same.
Damascus residents said mortar shells struck residential areas in the capital on Tuesday, most likely fired from rebel suburbs. There were no immediate reports of casualties. Continued...