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Syria’s Assad wins 4th term with 95% of vote, in election the West calls fraudulent

BEIRUT  Syrian President Bashar al-Assad won a fourth term in office with 95.1% of the 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. 

Mr. Assads government says the election on Wednesday 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 results at a news conference on Thursday, saying voter turnout was around 78%, with more than 14 million Syrians taking part. 

The election went ahead despite a United Nationsled 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 foreign ministers of France, Germany, Italy, Britain, and the United States said in a statement criticizing Mr. Assad ahead of the election that the vote would not be free or fair. Turkey, an Assad adversary, has also said the election was illegitimate. 

The win delivers Mr. Assad, 55, seven more years in power and lengthens his familys rule to nearly six decades. His father, Hafez al-Assad, led Syria for 30 years until his death in 2000. 

Mr. Assads years as president have been defined by the conflict that began in 2011 with peaceful protests before spiraling 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 Syrias children and its youth, lets start from tomorrow our campaign of work to build hope and build Syria, Mr. Assad wrote on his campaigns Facebook page. 

Mr. Assads biggest challenge, now that he has regained control of around 70% of the country, will be an economy in decline. 

Tightening US sanctions, neighboring Lebanons financial collapse, the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic hitting remittances from Syrians abroad and the inability of allies Russia and Iran to provide enough relief, mean prospects for recovery look poor. 

Rallies with thousands of people waving Syrian flags and holding pictures of Mr. Assad while singing and dancing took place all day Thursday in celebration of the election. 

Officials have told Reuters privately that authorities organized 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. 

The vote was boycotted by the US-backed Kurdish-led forces who administer an autonomous oil-rich region in the northeast and in northwestern Idlib region, the last existing rebel enclave, where people denounced the election in large demonstrations on Wednesday. 

Mr. 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. 

Mr. Marei got 3.3% of the vote, while Mr. Saloum received 1.5%, Mr. Sabbagh said. — Reuters 

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