Amid an absence of any real opposition, regime leader Bashar al Assad's Baath ruling party and its allies are expected to take most of parliament's 250 seats in the third such polls to be held since the war started nine years ago.

A picture taken on July 15, 2020, shows campaign posters of candidates for the Syria's parliamentary elections in the capital Damascus.
A picture taken on July 15, 2020, shows campaign posters of candidates for the Syria's parliamentary elections in the capital Damascus. (AFP)

Syrians have begun voting to elect a new parliament, as the country grapples with international sanctions and a crumbling economy.

More than 7,400 polling stations opened across regime-held parts of Syria, including for the first time in former opposition strongholds, the electoral commission said.

Regime leader Bashar al Assad's Baath party and its allies are expected to take most of parliament's 250 seats in the third such polls to be held since the war started nine years ago.

On the eve of the polls, one person was killed and another wounded in two blasts in Damascus, state news agency SANA said.

Several lists were allowed to run across the country but any real opposition is absent, and the ruling Baath party is expected to retain its hegemony.

Portraits of the contenders have been displayed across the capital for weeks, with the 1,658 candidates including several prominent businessmen.

The elections, twice postponed from April due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, come at a time when most Syrians are worried about the soaring cost of living.

READ MORE: How new protests in Syria are pushing Assad to the brink

Many candidates are running on programmes pledging to tackle inflation and improve infrastructure ravaged by the conflict.

"Lawmakers are going to have to make exceptional efforts to improve services," said Umaya, a 31-year-old woman who works in a dentist's practice.

Millions of Syrians living abroad, after fleeing a war that has killed more than 380,000 people, are not eligible to vote.

But for the first time, voting will take place in territory retaken by the regime, including in the Eastern Ghouta region outside Damascus and in the south of Idlib province in the country's northwest.

After a string of military victories backed by key ally Russia, the regime is back in control of around 70 percent of the country, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.

In the last polls in 2016, turnout stood at 57 percent.

'Unprecedented hunger crisis' 

This year's vote comes as Damascus struggles to redress an economy battered by nine years of war, Western sanctions and the fallout of a financial crisis in neighbouring Lebanon.

Food prices in Syria have shot up by more than 200 percent in the past year and now stand at 20 times their pre-war levels, the World Food Programme says.

In a country where more than 80 percent of people already live in poverty, the UN food agency has warned that Syrians are now facing an "unprecedented hunger crisis".

The elections also come as Assad marked a second decade in power this month, and weeks after the United States imposed new sanctions on Syria including on the regime leader's wife.

READ MORE: The Caesar Act and what awaits Syria

The next country's presidential polls are expected in 2021, and candidates will need the written approval of at least 35 members of parliament.

Foreign Minister Walid al Muallem last month said Assad would remain in power "as long as the Syrian want him to stay".

Dramatic collapse

Syria's war has killed more than 380,000 people since it started in 2011 with the repression of anti-regime protests, before evolving into a complex conflict involving world powers and militant groups.

The violence has also displaced millions of Syrians.

With the help of Iran and Russia, Assad has regained control over much of the country’s territory, apart from the rebel-held northwest. But it has come at the cost of turning the country into a rump state with an economy on the verge of collapse.

The regime is unable to provide basic services, having lost 75 percent of its GDP since the war began. Shortages of food, petrol, gas, and other basic goods are pervasive; electricity blackouts are widespread.

Over 80 percent of Syrians are said to be living in poverty. In May, the UN stated that 9.3 million people, more than half the population, are “food insecure”.

Source: AFP