Syrians in regime-controlled areas vote for new parliament despite international disapproval
Syrians who live in regime-held areas voted on Wednesday for a new 250-member parliament.
The voting process started at 07:00am (0400 GMT) and would end at 07:00pm (1600 GMT) on Wednesday but the electoral commission extended the voting by five hours until midnight (2100 GMT), state television reported.
Nearly 3,500 regime-approved candidates are running to be elected.
Voters could cast ballots at some 7,200 polling stations across regime-held areas where about 60 percent of the population lives.
The election was expected to see autocrat Bashar al Assad's Baathist regime keep control over the parliament, although other parties were participating in the election.
The regime said that the vote was held to comply with the constitution, a view echoed by its Russian allies.
Yamin al Homsi, a 37-year-old who voted in Damascus said, "I voted because this election will decide the country's future. I hope that the winners will be true to the nation even before being true to the voters."
Assad pressed ahead with the election despite another round of UN-brokered peace talks that started the same day in Geneva aimed at ending six-year-long war in the country.
The Syrian opposition refused to take part in the controversial election. They said it will contribute to a negative climate for the peace talks in Geneva.
"These elections do not mean anything," said Asaad al Zoubi, chief negotiator for the main opposition body, the High Negotiations Council. "They are illegitimate - theatre for the sake of procrastination, theatre through which the regime is trying to give itself a little legitimacy."
Mayssoun, a Syrian national said she would not vote in the election.
"Most of these candidates are rich men who live abroad and are just feeding us nonsense," she said.
"I used to have an apartment in Yarmuk that I left because of the clashes, and now I move around from place to place," the waitress said.
International organisations such as the United Nations renounced the election. The UN said a transition government should be established until June, followed by a new constitution and an election within a year.
Western leaders denounced the process as a sham and a provocation that undermines the ongoing Geneva peace talks to end six-year-old war in the country.
French President Francois Hollande had stated last month the idea was provocative and "totally unrealistic."
Foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal also indicated in a daily briefing on Wednesday, "France denounces this shame of an election organised by the regime... They are being held without campaigning, under the auspices of an oppressive regime and without international observation."
A spokesperson for the British government said, "The decision of the regime to hold elections is a measure of how divorced it is from reality. They cannot buy back legitimacy by putting up a flimsy facade of democracy."
The United States also strongly rejected the election.
Russia, one of Assad's key allies, stated however that the election was necessary to refrain a power vacuum.
"There is understanding already, that a new constitution should emerge as a result of this political process, on the basis of which new, early elections are to be held," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said during a news briefing.
"But before this happens, one should avoid any legal vacuum or any vacuum in the sphere of executive power."
Syria previously held a presidential election in regime-controlled areas in June 2014, with Assad triumphing over two other candidates with 88 percent of the vote. According to the regime's constitutional court, the turnout was 73 percent, but this figure has been highly doubted.
US Secretary of State John Kerry at the time called the election, which saw 21 candidates barred from running before they were held, "meaningless." The European Union, meanwhile, said that the elections were "illegitimate and undermine the political efforts to find a solution" to the conflict.
The UN estimates the death toll in Syria, since the start of the war to be at least 250,000. But the Syrian Centre for Policy Research released a report on February 10 stating that the death toll has now exceeded 470,000.
Around 5 million others took refuge in the neighbouring countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt, with Turkey hosting the largest number with 3 million people.