Syrians headed to polling stations in government-held parts of the war-torn country on Sunday to elect a new parliament amid strict health measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the Associated Press reports.
The vote is the third to take place in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011. It has killed more than 400,000, displaced half the country’s population and caused more than five million to become refugees, mostly in neighbouring countries.
This year’s vote follows a new wave of US sanctions that came into effect last month and a campaign to fight corruption that saw a wealthy cousin of President Bashar Assad come under pressure to pay back tens of millions of dollars to the state.
The elections also coincide with Syria’s worst economic crisis and a currency crash, which has dragged more of the county’s population into poverty.
Some 1,656 government-approved candidates are running this year for the 250-seat People’s Assembly. The total number of eligible voters has not been announced.
As in previous elections in Syria, the vote will produce a rubber-stamp body loyal to the president.
No vote was held in the northwestern province of Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in Syria, or in the country’s northeast, which is controlled by US.-backed Kurdish-led fighters.
Voting in government-held areas passed without major incidents, but in the rebel-held north, a car bomb late Sunday killed five people and wounded dozens near a border crossing with Turkey, according to Syrian opposition activists and Turkey’s state-run news agency.
Inside polling stations, all workers were wearing masks and gloves, and voters had to use their own pens in the sanitised booths. Once their ballots were cast, they had to leave immediately, as no gatherings were allowed inside. People also had to keep a safe distance while waiting for their turn.
Assad and his wife Asma, both wearing masks, voted Sunday morning in Damascus at the Ministry of Presidential Affairs.