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

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
News
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
News
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
television
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
art
Sport
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
football
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
fashion
News
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
news
Sport
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
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

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable