Syrians living abroad have started voting in the presidential election, which incumbent Bashar al-Assad is expected to win.


Syrian television reported heavy turnout for the one day of expatriate voting, held at the country’s diplomatic missions abroad on Wednesday.

Al-Assad is running alongside two little-known candidates, Maher Hajjar and Hassan al-Nouri, in the election, which will be held at home on June 3.

In Lebanon, thousands of Syrians, mainly supporters of al-Assad, queued to vote.

“I am here to vote for my country, Syria, and our leader Bashar al-Assad,” said Fatima, a Syrian from the northern province of Aleppo who refused to give her full name because some of her relatives live in a rebel-held area of Aleppo.

“We are voting for our great leader Bashar al-Assad, who will bring us, God willing, back to our homes,” said Mohammed al-Ali, who hails from the southern Syrian province of Daraa.

Syria’s ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdel-Karim, said the polls would be open until 7pm (1600 GMT).

“If the crowd continues to increase, we might extend the voting by two more hours,” he said.

An estimated 1.1 million Syrians are living as refugees in Lebanon.

According to UN agencies, more than 40 per cent of Syria’s pre-war population of 22.4 million people has been displaced by the conflict, which is in its fourth year.

As well as the 2.6 million refugees in neighbouring countries, about 6.5 million are displaced inside Syria.

Several countries – including France, Germany, Belgium and Gulf states – have said they will not allow the Syrian presidential polls to be held in their territories, dismissing them as a sham.

The opposition and its Western allies have repeatedly demanded that al-Assad step down as a first step to ending the civil war, which started in 2011 and has claimed at least 162,000 lives.

An election law adopted by the Syrian parliament this year prevents those who have lived outside Syria for the past decade running, ruling out the participation of most high-profile opposition leaders, who live in exile.

Al-Assad became Syria’s president in 2000 after the death of his father, Hafez, who ruled the country for almost 30 years.