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  • 3 June 2014, 2:17

Syrians To Vote In 'Show Of Force' Election

Syria's presidential elections are set to take place in the midst of a brutal three-year war.

For the first time in the country's history there is more than one candidate competing for the top job.

Running against President Bashar al Assad are Maher Hajjar, a little-known parliamentarian from Aleppo, and Hassan al Nouri, a former government minister and businessman from Damascus.

Both were vetted by the government and neither have a chance of winning.

Syria's Supreme Court earlier disqualified 21 candidates from the race and a restrictive election law essentially made it impossible to run without government approval.

This election is not about democracy, but rather a show of force by Assad.

By holding elections as planned, he is sending a message to the international community and Syrians that he is winning the war.

Two years ago the opposition thought Assad's days were numbered and the West portrayed his demise as imminent.

Not only has he survived but the momentum on the ground is in his favour. Pro-Assad forces recently reclaimed the Old City of Homs from the rebels, negotiating a ceasefire there. As the heart of the uprising, the regime's victory in Homs was an important milestone.

Millions will be prevented from voting - not just those in rebel-held areas where polling stations won't operate, but also the hundreds of thousands of refugees not officially registered, as well as those who are internally displaced or who lost their documents when they fled their homes.

In Lebanon, where there are more than a million registered Syrian refugees, people queued for hours to vote at the one polling station in the Syrian embassy in Beirut.

Some were clearly eager to show their support for Assad; others were afraid if they didn't vote they would be punished or refused entry back into Syria.

In three years of fighting, an estimated 160,000 people have died and more than three million have fled the country with another million internally displaced. Many Syrians say privately they do not trust Assad or the various opposition forces. 

The incumbent is heading for victory and a third, seven-year term. For him and his allies this election signals a new phase in the conflict where he will be able to use the election to prove he is the legitimate leader of Syria. 

Many fear more intense fighting as an empowered Assad moves to crush rebel fighters. Others see this election as the start of an official splitting up of the Syrian state, as Assad consolidates power in the areas under his control.

Either way, there is no end in sight for the millions of Syrians who continue to bear the brunt of this war.

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