Syria elections 2014: Voters turn out for ballot denounced as a 'sham' by West

Voting has begun in first multi-candidate 'blood elections' in over 40 years

Polls have opened and voting is underway in Syria’s government-held areas amid heavy security, in an election President Bashar al-Assad is widely expected to win but which has been denounced by critics and the West.

The balloting, Syria's first multi-candidate election in more than 40 years, comes as a devastating, three-year civil war that activists say has killed more than 160,000 people, about a third of them civilians, rages on.

As voting got under way, activists reported fighting, shelling and air raids in rebel-held areas of the country.

Previous elections saw voters handed ballots with just one member of the Assad family’s name on.

This ballot includes two other candidates, Maher Hajjar and Hassan al-Nouri, who are not widely known in the country. Both were vetted by the government and President Bashar is widely expected to win a third term in office.

The opposition's Western and regional allies, including the US, Britain, France, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, have called the vote a farce and the opposition and government critics have widely condemned as a sham.

Syria's two main internal opposition groups are boycotting the vote while many activists around the country are referring to it as "blood elections".

In the capital Damascus, security was tight with multiple rings of checkpoints set up around the city and its entrances. Troops searched cars and asked people for identification.

The Interior Ministry said there were 15.8 million eligible voters, both inside and outside Syria, and that 9,600 voting centres had been set up around the country.

Tens of thousands of Syrians abroad voted last week, although many of the more than 2.7 million Syrian refugees across the region have either abstained or were excluded by voting laws.

At a polling station in the city's Dama Rose hotel, a box with pins was available for those who wanted to prick their finger and vote in blood — a symbolic act of allegiance and patriotism.

Odai al-Jamounai, 18, told The Associated Press he voted with his blood "to express by my love to my country and my leader."

In the rebel-held central town of Rastan, which has been under attack by government forces for more than two years, an activist Murhaf al-Zoubi told the AP all the local residents "want Assad to go."

"There are no elections here, this is a free, liberated area," he added.

The ministry said voting is expected to last for 12 hours, although this could be extended for five hours tonight if there is a large turnout.

Additional reporting by agencies

PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
News
i100
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Renewable Energy Construction Manager

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices