Syria’s President Bashar Assad officially began his presidential campaign despite a crippling civil war that has devastated the country and left large chunks of territory outside of government control.
The election comes more than three years into a revolt against Assad’s rule that has killed more than 150,000 people and forced more than 2.5 million to seek refuge abroad.
Assad will face two other candidates in the race: Maher Hajjar and Hassan al-Nouri, both members of the so-called internal opposition tolerated by the government.
But the men are relatively unknown, and neither has the full weight of the state behind him like Assad does.
The presence of other candidates on the ballot represents a shift in Syria. Until now, Assad and his father have been elected by referendums in which they were the only candidates and voters cast yes-or-no ballots.
Last month, the Syrian parliament approved an electoral law opening the door to a multi-candidate race. The new law, however, placed conditions effectively ensuring that almost no opposition figures would be able to run.
It states that any candidate must have lived in Syria for the past 10 years and cannot have any other citizenship.