DAMASCUS, Syria — Against a backdrop of civil war, tens of thousands of Syrians voted in government-controlled cities and towns Tuesday to give President Bashar Assad a new seven-year mandate, with some even marking the ballots with their own blood.
The carefully choreographed election was ignored and even mocked in opposition-held areas of Syria where fighting persisted, with some rebels derisively dropping their shoes in a phony ballot box in a show of disgust. Western leaders also called it a sham.
A victory for Assad is likely to bolster his base of support at home and provide further evidence that he has no intention of relinquishing power, making a protracted conflict the likely outcome in fighting that has already lasted three years.
Fears that the rebels would rain down mortar shells on government-controlled territory did not materialize, but fighting persisted.
State-run media reported that voting closed on midnight Tuesday, and election officials began the process of checking the number of votes against lists of registered voters to ensure numbers matched. In one central Damascus voting booth, 2,196 people cast their ballots — all but two were for Assad, according to a count witnessed by an Associated Press reporter who watched representatives of each presidential candidate tally votes.
The announcement was accompanied by wild beeping and cheering in central Damascus by Assad supporters. It was not immediately clear when election results would be announced. Assad faced two government-approved challengers, Maher Hajjar and Hassan al-Nouri, both of whom were little known in the country before declaring their candidacy in April.
Voting took place only in government-controlled areas, excluding much of northern and eastern Syria. Tens of thousands of Syrians abroad voted last week, although many of the more than 2.7 million Syrian refugees across the region either abstained or were excluded by law.
In Damascus, there were ostentatious shows of support for the 48-year-old Assad, who has ruled Syria since 2000, when he took over after the death of his father, Hafez. There was a carnival-like atmosphere, with voters singing, banging drums and dancing with Syrian flags. Chants of "God, Syria and Bashar!" were heard.