Syrian President al-Assad re-elected easily, state media reports

Story highlights

NEW: Al-Assad acknowledges people's "joy" over result, tells them not to fire into the air

President Bashar al-Assad received 88.7% of Tuesday's presidential vote, state TV says

Syrian opposition, Western countries said the election wouldn't be free or fair

U.N. secretary general had urged Syria not to hold elections during war

CNN  — 

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was re-elected in the country’s first presidential vote since its civil war broke out three years ago, state-run television reported Wednesday.

Al-Assad received 88.7% of Tuesday’s vote, the state media outlet said, in an election that took place only in areas controlled by the government. Rebels hold significant parts of the north and east of the country.

Opposition groups and many Western countries have said the voting was rigged and that al-Assad’s two little-known challengers – Hassan al-Nouri, a businessman and former government minister, and Maher Hajjar, a lawmaker – were just window dressing to give the undertaking a veneer of democracy.

But the Syrian government has dismissed any criticism of the process.

Al-Nouri received 4.3% of the vote, and Hajjar received 3.2%, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported, citing Parliament Speaker Mohammad Jihad al-Laham.

The voting comes as war continues to rage in Syria. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed in the Middle Eastern nation since an uprising began in March 2011.

That includes more fighting on Wednesday. The Local Coordination Committees in Syria, a network of opposition activists, reports on its Facebook page that at least 24 people were killed in violence nationwide, including eight in Aleppo province and six in and around Damascus.

In a nod to this ongoing warfare, al-Assad urged people not to fire guns into the air as an “expression of our joy and enthusiasm” – saying doing so threatens citizens’ lives and dishonors Syrian troops on the frontlines.

In a posting on the presidency’s Facebook page, cited by SANA, al-Assad told citizens to voice their feelings about the vote “in a way that reflects our high morals and civilization as Syrians.”

Yet not everyone believed the election was worth celebrating – or that it should have been held at all.

The office of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had urged the Syrian government not to hold the election, warning it would “damage the political process and hamper the prospects for a political solution” to the civil war.

The Islamic Front, one of the largest armed rebel groups, claimed the al-Assad government was blackmailing people to vote in what it called a fake election.

The British Foreign Office said the vote would “be a grotesque parody of democracy,” and the U.S. State Department said the al-Assad government took steps “to make it difficult if not impossible to have a fair and free election in Syria.”

The Syrian government said election monitors from the United States, the European Union or the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe wouldn’t be present, but observers from some other countries would be.

Syria isn’t renowned for holding free and fair elections. When al-Assad came to power 14 years ago, he ran unopposed, securing more than 99% of the vote, according to state media.

Seven years later, he won again with a similarly mountainous share of the vote. His father, Hafez al-Assad, ruled Syria with an iron fist for 29 years before he died in 2000.

What to know about Bashar al-Assad

CNN’s Jason Hanna and Greg Botelho contributed to this report.