Damascus: Polling May stations opened Wednesday across Syria for an election where few doubt that Bashar al-Assad will extend his grip on power for a fourth term, in a war-battered country mired in economic crisis. The controversial vote is the second election since the start of a decade-long conflict, that has killed more than 388,000 people and displaced half the pre-war population. Huge election posters glorifying Assad have mushroomed across the two-thirds of the country under government rule. With opponents abroad barred from running and no voting in the swathes of territory outside his control, Assad faces just two virtually unknown challengers. The official news agency SANA declared voting had started as planned at 7:00 am (0400 GMT) and state television showed long queues forming in several parts of the country. Syrians can cast their ballots in more than 12,000 polling centers, and results are expected to be announced by Friday evening, 48 hours after voting closes. The election takes place amid the lowest levels of violence since 2011 — but with an economy in free-fall. More than 80 percent of the population live below the poverty line, and the Syrian pound has plunged in value against the dollar, with inflation skyrocketing. Assad’s campaign slogan, “Hope through work”, evokes the colossal reconstruction needed to rebuild the country, requiring billions in funding.