Damascus: Syria entered its final day of campaigning on Sunday for the June 3 presidential election expected to return Bashar al-Assad to power, a vote the opposition brands a "parody of democracy".
With swathes of the country out of government control, voting will only take place in regime-held territory, far from where Assad`s forces are battling the rebels who seek to topple him.
The fragmented opposition, and their Western and Arab allies, are set to watch powerlessly as the ballot returns Assad to power for a third, seven-year term at a time when the army is making advances on the battlefield.
Assad`s opponents have dubbed the vote a "parody of democracy" and the "blood election", as the toll from the civil war has reached 162,000, according to a monitoring group.
The rebels have urged Syrians to boycott the vote in which Assad`s sole competitors, MP Maher al-Hajjar, and businessman Hassan al-Nouri -- are little known and seen as token rivals.
Today the ruling Baath Party, which has dominated Syria for more than half a century, called for people to re-elect Assad.
The president was chosen by referendum in 2000 following the death of his father and predecessor, Hafez al-Assad, who had ruled over Syria for nearly 30 years.
By choosing Assad, Syrians would be voting "not only for a president of the republic but for a leader... Who faces the war... For the iconic leader Bashar al-Assad who has stayed at the side of his people in all corners of the homeland," the ruling party said in a statement.
In an apparent bid to shore up the support of Sunni Muslims for Assad, state television gave a live broadcast of a meeting of Sunni clerics who also urged voters to cast their ballots for Assad.
The president is from the minority Alawite community while most of the rebels fighting to topple him come from Syria`s majority Sunni Muslim community.