Syrians head to polls in presidential election

Syrian voters are heading to the polls in a presidential election in which incumbent Bashar al-Assad appears almost certain to extend his grip on power.

Polling stations opened on Wednesday morning, as Assad's third term is set to expire.

Voting is taking place only in areas under the control of his administration. Assad, who has been in power for 21 years, is widely expected to win a fourth term, as he is pitted against two relatively unknown challengers.

Many voters were seen at a polling station on a university campus in the capital, Damascus.

A 20-year-old voter said he voted for the incumbent. The university student said bringing stability to the country and getting sanctions lifted are what he is expecting the most.

A 28-year-old woman says that she wants the country to be reconstructed under President Assad and she has a lot of trust in him.

Days earlier, on Thursday of last week, voting took place at the Syrian Embassy in Tokyo for registered Syrian voters in Japan.

With the photos of Assad and two other candidates posted on the wall, an embassy staff member was seen speaking live on Syria's state-run TV program via smartphone. The embassy's charge d'affaires described the voting process as clear and transparent.

However, some Syrians who came to Japan to escape from the war in their home country said they have no voting rights as they are assumed to have left Syria illegally. They said they have no intention to lend a hand to Assad's propaganda by casting ballots, even if they are allowed to vote.

The National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces has criticized the poll as a farce. It said the election runs counter to the political efforts to resolve the situation based on a UN Security Council resolution.

The country's decade-long civil war shows no signs of ending, as the political process seems to be at a standstill.