More than 7,000 polling stations opened across government-held parts of Syria, including for the first time in former opposition strongholds, in the third such polls since the war started nine years ago.
Several lists were allowed to run across the country but, without any real opposition, President Bashar al-Assad’s Baath party and its allies were expected to win most of parliament’s 250 seats.
Assad and his wife Asma cast their ballots in the capital, the presidency said, posting photos of the couple wearing white face masks as part of measures to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Volunteers stood outside polling stations holding flyers promoting their favourite candidates, and tried to woo passers-by to come in and vote.
Among the first to cast his ballot in Damascus was 50-year-old government employee Khaled al-Shaleh.
The elections were twice postponed from April due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has officially infected 496 people and killed 25 in government-held areas. Polling station staff wearing masks took the temperatures of arriving voters and checked that those waiting in line were observing social distancing.
Portraits of the contenders have been displayed across the capital for weeks, with the 1,658 candidates including several prominent businessmen. Many candidates are running on pledges to tackle sharp inflation and improve infrastructure ravaged by the conflict.
Polls were due to close at 2000 GMT, after the electoral commission extended voting by four hours, state news agency reported.
In the last polls in 2016, turnout reached 57 percent.
Millions of Syrians living abroad, after fleeing a war that has killed more than 380,000 people, are ineligible to vote.
For the first time, voting was to take place in territory retaken by the government, 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 government is back in control of around 70 percent of the country, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said.
The capital has largely been secure in recent years, but on the eve of the vote one person was killed and another wounded in a blast in Damascus, the state agency reported.
This year’s vote comes as Damascus struggles to redress an economy battered by 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 said.
In a country where more than 80 percent of people already live in poverty, the UN agency has warned Syrians are now facing an “unprecedented hunger crisis”.
Assad marked 20 years as president this month, weeks after the United States imposed new economic sanctions including on his wife.
The next presidential polls are expected in 2021, and candidates will need the written approval of at least 35 members of parliament.