DAMASCUS (AFP): Bashar al-Assad has been re-elected for a fourth term as president of Syria, official results showed on Thursday, despite Western accusations the polls were “neither free nor fair”.
The parliamentary speaker announced Thursday that Assad garnered 95.1 percent of the votes cast, trouncing two virtually unknown challengers.
Standing against him were former state minister Abdallah Salloum Abdallah and Mahmud Merhi, a member of the so-called “tolerated opposition”, long dismissed by exiled opposition leaders as an extension of the regime.
On the eve of the election, the US, Britain, France, Germany and Italy said the poll was “neither free nor fair”, and Syria s fragmented opposition has called it a “farce”.
But few doubted that Assad, a 55-year-old ophthalmologist by training, would be re-elected.
In the last multi-candidate poll in 2014, Assad won 88 percent of the vote.
Huge election posters glorifying Assad had mushroomed across the two-thirds of the country under his control in the lead-up to Wednesday s poll.
Before the election results were announced, tens of thousands of Syrians gathered Thursday in various cities to celebrate, waving Syrian flags and carrying pictures of Assad, state media reported.
The festivities broke out after the election committee, quoted by local TV, said that “the ballot counting process has been completed in the majority of Syrian provinces”.
“Tens of thousands of people in Tartus province gathered at the city s seafront to celebrate” Assad s expected win, according to state news agency SANA.
Some danced and beat drums, footage broadcast by Syrian television showed.
Thousands of other Syrians rallied in the coastal city of Latakia and in Umayyad Square in the capital Damascus, which along with Tartus and Latakia are bastions of the regime.
Celebrations were also underway in Aleppo and in Sweida, in Syria s south, where a crowd gathered in front of city hall, state media said.