Tens of thousands of Syrians in Lebanon flocked to their embassy in Yarze, near Beirut, on Wednesday to cast their ballots in the presidential election, the first to take place since the Syrian uprising began in 2011.
Even though there were officially three candidates, at times the elections looked more like a rally for President Bashar al-Assad, who is running for his third term in office. Some voters came by bus with posters of the incumbent pasted on the windows. Some chanted slogans in support of the president. Ballots with the pictures of the three candidates were distributed to people waiting outside the embassy; Assad’s image came first. Polling booths were out in the open, allowing little privacy for voting.
The elections were heavily criticized by some in the Syrian opposition who argued that people went to vote out of fear of retribution. Meanwhile, the March 14 general secretariat called for Lebanese authorities to expel Syrians who voted, claiming participation in the elections nullifies one’s refugee status.
The high voter turnout caused huge traffic jams in the areas around Yarze, stranding some drivers for several hours on the streets. Due to the turnout, the embassy extended voting to Thursday. Those who were unable to vote this week will be able to do so at the border crossing during the national election on June 3.