DAMASCUS — Syrians vote on Tuesday in a presidential poll that Bashar al-Assad is all but certain to win.
In theory, this will be Syria's first election in nearly 50 years, with Assad and his father Hafez renewing their mandates in successive referendums.
But the controversial vote excludes opponents from running, and will only be held in areas under army control.
It takes place as the war rages, with the air force bombarding rebel areas in Aleppo and fierce fighting in Hama, Damascus, Idlib and Daraa.
More than 15 million Syrians will be able to cast their vote in 11,000 ballot boxes distributed in more than 9,000 offices, which will be open from 7:00 am (0400 GMT) to 7:00pm (1600 GMT).
Observers from countries – North Korea, Iran and Russia – are to supervise the voting, while a security plan has reportedly been put in place in Syrian cities to prevent possible attacks against voters and polling stations.
Syria's divided rebels, like their Western and Arab backers, watch powerless as Assad prepares to renew his grip on power, after a string of advances on the ground, mainly in Homs and near the Lebanese border.
Opposition activists have branded the vote a "blood election," while the country reels from a war that has killed more than 162,000 people.
For some time, rumours have swirled that polling stations in Damascus would be targeted by insurgents positioned in the nearby countryside.
Assad faces two virtually unknown competitors – Maher al-Hajjad and Hassan al-Nuri – while the head of state is glorified in huge posters and billboards set up across territory under the government control. — AFP