Damascus [Syria], May 26 (ANI): As voters in the government-held parts of Syria are heading to the polls to cast ballots for the presidential election in Syria, it is widely expected that the poll will cement a fourth term for President Bashar al-Assad.
According to Al Jazeera, Wednesday's presidential vote s the second since the beginning of Syria's uprising-turned-war a decade ago. In 2014, al-Assad won nearly 89 per cent of the vote.
Abdullah Salloum Abdullah, former state minister of parliamentary affairs; and Mahmoud Ahmad Marei, head of the National Democratic Front, a small, state-endorsed opposition party, are running against al-Assad in this election, which has been dismissed by the opposition and Western powers as a 'farce'.
Meanwhile, al-Assad cast his ballot in Douma near the capital, Damascus, a previous rebel stronghold and the site of a suspected chemical weapons attack by government forces in 2018.
A Damascus-based student told Al Jazeera that polling stations were packed with voters all morning and that many students were being forced to cast ballots.
"Some universities will fail or even expel you if you don't vote...But it doesn't matter; we all know what the results will be because these elections are just a show," she said.
Danny Makki, Middle East Institute nonresident scholar, says the economic crisis has led to "peak discontent" even among the biggest supporters of the government.
"Although the elections have been celebratory, to say the least, [the] post-election [period] is where the true challenge awaits," he told Al Jazeera. "Just how much can al-Assad keep the economy afloat and manage Syria's problems, even with Russian and Iranians help its a hard ask," he added.
Another student said that although people were complaining of poverty and inflation, the opposition is far more hated than the regime.
Meanwhile, the foreign ministers of the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy issued a joint statement in which they described the polls as a sham.
"For an election to be credible, all Syrians should be allowed to participate, including internally displaced Syrians, refugees, and members of the diaspora, in a safe and neutral environment," the statement said. However, al-Assad rejected such criticism, saying that "we do not care at all about such statements".
The Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), which controls northeastern Syria, has also criticised al-Assad's government for obstructing negotiations and meetings and said that it will not be part of the presidential election process.
The country is home to the world's largest number of displaced people, with millions of domestic refugees in the north-western province of Idlib and in areas in the east that are outside of the government's control -- run by Turkish troops or their proxy militia have the say.
According to recent UN numbers, 13.4 million people -- two in three Syrians -- are in need of humanitarian assistance. Though Syria is on the brink of a financial collapse, with limited access to petrol or wheat, the confirmation of Assad as president might serve as a morale booster. (ANI)