Thousands of Syrians lined up outside polling centers in government-controlled areas around the country to vote today in a presidential election that Bashar Assad is widely expected to win but which has been denounced by critics as a sham. The balloting comes amid a devastating, three-year civil war that activists say has killed more than 160,000 people, about a third of whom were civilians. It's also Syria's first multi-candidate election in more than 40 years. The opposition's Western and regional allies, including the US, Britain, France, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, have called the vote a farce.
The so-called internal Syrian opposition groups seen as more lenient are also boycotting the vote, while many activists around the country are referring to it as "blood elections." Assad, who is running for a third seven-year term and whose re-election is all but a foregone conclusion, faces two government-approved challengers, both of whom were little known in Syria before declaring their candidacy. At a polling station in central Damascus, many voters refused to go behind the curtain to vote in privacy, instead publicly circling Assad's name. At the same station, a box with pins was available for those who wanted to prick their finger and vote in blood—a symbolic act of allegiance and patriotism. (Read more Bashar al-Assad stories.)