Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad won a fourth term in office with 95.1% of votes in an election that will extend his rule over a country ruined by war but which opponents and the West say was marked by fraud.
Assad’s government says the election shows Syria is functioning normally despite the decade-old conflict, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven 11 million people – about half the population – from their homes.
Head of parliament Hammouda Sabbagh announced the result in a news conference on Thursday, saying voter turnout was at around 78%.
The election went ahead despite a U.N.-led peace process that had called for voting under international supervision that would help pave the way for a new constitution and a political settlement.
The win delivers Assad seven more years in power and lengthens his family’s rule to nearly six decades. His father Hafez al-Assad led Syria for 30 years until his death in 2000.
Assad’s years as president are defined by the conflict that began in 2011 with peaceful protests before spiralling into a multi-sided conflict that has fractured the Middle Eastern country and drawn in foreign friends and enemies.
“Thank you to all Syrians for their high sense of nationalism and their notable participation…. for the future of Syria’s children and its youth let’s start from tomorrow our campaign of work to build hope and build Syria,” Assad wrote on his campaign’s Facebook page.
Rallies with thousands of people waving Syrian flags and holding pictures of Assad while singing and dancing had been taking place all day Thursday in celebration of holding the election ahead of the announcement of the result.
Officials have told Reuters privately that authorities had organised the large rallies in recent days to encourage voting, and the security apparatus that underpins Assad’s Alawite minority-dominated rule had instructed state employees to vote.
Assad was running against two obscure candidates, former deputy cabinet minister Abdallah Saloum Abdallah and Mahmoud Ahmed Marei, head of a small, officially sanctioned opposition party.
Marei got 3.3% of the vote while Saloum received 1.5%, Sabbagh said.
After the announcement, fireworks erupted in celebration and crowds continued cheering in various main squares in cities across Syria.