DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Against a backdrop of civil war, tens of thousands of Syrians voted in government-controlled cities and towns yesterday to give President Bashar Assad a new seven-year mandate, with some even marking the ballots with their own blood.
The carefully choreographed election was ignored and even mocked in opposition-held areas of Syria where fighting persisted, with some rebels derisively dropping their shoes in a phony ballot box in a show of disgust. Western leaders also called it a sham.
A victory for Assad is likely to bolster his base of support at home and provide further evidence that he has no intention of relinquishing power, making a protracted conflict the likely outcome in fighting that has already lasted three years.
Fears that the rebels would rain down mortar shells on government-controlled territory did not materialize, but fighting persisted.
State-run media reported that voting closed on midnight yesterday, and election officials began the process of checking the number of votes against lists of registered voters to ensure numbers matched. In one central Damascus voting booth, 2,196 people cast their ballots — all but two were for Assad, counted an AP reporter who watched representatives of each presidential candidate tally votes.
The announcement was accompanied by wild beeping and cheering on central Damascus by Assad supporters. It was not immediately clear when election results would be announced.
Earlier in Damascus, the dull sounds of explosions reverberated in the distance as government forces and rebels battled in nearby rural towns and plumes of gray smoke marked the skyline. Several mortar rounds reportedly hit in the capital, including one that fell near the Opera House on a major plaza.
At least three fighter jets roared low over the city, which residents said was unusual. Government warplanes and helicopters pounded the rebellious Damascus suburb of Daraya, the southern city of Daraa and the nearby town of Nawa, as well as opposition-held districts of the divided northern city of Aleppo.