The chief of Syria's election commission on Wednesday declared President Bashar Assad the victor in balloting that offered little in the way of surprises and had been widely condemned as a sham.
Mohammad Jihad Lahaam, who also serves as speaker of Parliament, announced that Assad had cruised to a third seven-year term with 88.7% of the vote.
Unlike previous presidential elections in Syria that had only one candidate and were more akin to a referendum, this year's contest included two unknown challengers whose bids were largely seen as symbolic and quixotic: U.S.-educated businessman Hassan Nouri and Maher Hajjar, a lawmaker from Aleppo. They garnered 4.3% and 3.2% respectively.
Despite the crushing defeat, the losing candidates took matters in stride, with Nouri congratulating Syria "for this great victory" and for the selection of Assad "as a wise leader and president for this country."
Syrian state media showed images of jubilant Assad supporters in large numbers taking to the streets, chanting and dancing in celebration of the president's landslide victory, while displaying slogans unequivocally supportive of Assad such as "Bashar Assad is the crown of dignity and sacrifice for all the Arab nation."
Even Beirut -- capital of neighboring Lebanon, which is now home to 1.5 million Syrian refugees -- was not immune to the fervor as salvos of fireworks and car horns cut through the night air.
In Syria, soldiers and pro-government militiamen also took part in the festivities. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based pro-opposition group, reported that three people were killed and tens were wounded from the bullets during the celebrations.
Voting was only allowed in government-controlled areas that make up roughly 40% of Syria's territory. Turnout was reported to be 73.42%.
The opposition, which boycotted the election and whose members largely were not eligible to participate in the first place, took a dim view of the proceedings, dismissing the legitimacy of balloting held in the midst of a devastating civil war that has lasted more than three years and left more than 160,000 people dead.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry, in a surprise visit to Lebanon, where he met with Prime Minister Tammam Salam, was equally derisive.
"The elections are a great big zero. They’re meaningless," he said in a news conference. "Nothing has changed between the day before the election and the day after.... The conflict is the same, the terror is the same, the killing is the same, the problem for the refugees is the same, regrettably."
Although Syrian law allows for Nouri and Hajjar to contest the results within three days of the announcement, they are not expected to do so.
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