HOMS, Syria, May 30 (Xinhua) -- Despite the destruction that has befallen its sprawling old quarters, people in the central city of Homs have welcomed the upcoming presidential election as a "new democratic experience."
"We are so pleased with presidential campaigns that are taking place, we are so pleased that we have multi candidates and that we would have a free and democratic opinion to express," Asmahan Mulhim, a woman from Homs told Xinhua.
Homs, Syria's third largest city, was one of the first areas to sympathize with an anti-government movement in Syria. The rebels there took considerable swathes of land, but government troops have stripped them of their territory over the past year.
Recently, the rebels have evacuated the old quarters of Homs under a deal concluded with the Syrian government troops, leaving the old city in ruins due to the intensity of the clashes there that lasted over two years.
The old city is still empty of people, who have started trickling back to check their destroyed homes and take what's left of their belongings and only few campaigning posters of President Bashar al-Assad were seen in the battered area, incomparable with the intensive campaign in the other part of the city that hasn't witnessed many battles.
Fully securing Homs was crucial for the administration of President Assad ahead of the June 3 presidential election, because of the strategic location of Homs in central Syria and on the international road that connects the capital Damascus with the central and northern regions.
"We are so happy that Homs has returned back to us and the homeland and we are so happy in Homs," Mulhim said.
The three candidates -- incumbent President Assad, former minister Hassan al-Nouri and lawmaker Maher Hajjar -- have put forth their electoral platforms, including how to rescue the collapsed economy.
The election will be the first to be held in half a century, even though Assad is highly expected to win a third 7-year term in the office as the other two candidates are little known and have no real popularity on ground.
Previously, there were only referenda to support Assad or his late father, Hafez al-Assad, who was in office from 1971 to 2000. In 2007, the junior Assad won another seven years in office with 97 percent of the vote in a nationwide referendum on his leadership in which he was the only candidate.
Like in all government-controlled cities, the people of Homs deemed Assad as the one who can be counted on to restore Syria to what it had used to be ahead of the crisis.
Mlath Beibo, a teacher in Homs told Xinhua that "the election's atmosphere in Homs is so good and this is an example of democracy and whoever wants to practice the real democracy, can vote to any of the three candidates who have put forward their political program. This is the atmosphere that we want and this is the democracy."
Even though the people there are talking about democracy, the posters of Assad were everywhere amid a few posters of the other two candidates, whose campaigns seemed shy in other Syrian cities, other than the capital.
The al-Baath University was bustling with students who seemed enthusiastic about the vote.
"In my opinion, the election is something really serious and democratic and it's a sign of new freedom. This is the first time we witness multi-candidate election, but I personally support President Bashar al-Assad and his campaign," Anana Khouri, a student at the Faculty of Tourism told Xinhua.
Her friend, Ghadir Khadur, also welcomed the vote, saying " every Syrian must vote and I think that President Bashar al-Assad will emerge victorious in the elections."
Amil Khuzam, a 60-year-old Syrian, was moving some of his belongings from the al-Hamidiyeh neighborhood in the old city of Homs and even though he seemed to have too much to think about, including how to fix his destroyed home, but he showed some enthusiasm when asked about his opinion in the election.
"The election is democratic and we have always had democracy but this year it's going to be fully implemented on ground by 100 percent," he said.
During his tour of the old city of Homs to check the destroyed churches and give hope to the people there of a new life after the destruction, Gregory III Laham, Patriarch of the Church of Antioch and all East, welcomed the election, saying "everybody is free to elect and you see all of these people will elect."
Laham said the Syrians are living the resurrection in these times.
All districts of Homs city are under the government control, except the al-Waer neighborhood, whose rebels are reportedly negotiating with the Syrian government to conclude a deal similar to that of the old city of Homs.
International and domestic critics of the Syrian government said millions of displaced Syrians inside and outside of the country aren't eligible or can't participate in the voting process, including those who left the country "illegally" as refugees. They argue that the election is not legitimate if it excludes a large part of the Syrian population.
Syrian opposition groups and other international powers have dismissed the 2014 voting as a "farce," saying the planned vote will thwart a political solution to Syria's three-year-old crisis, which has killed over 150,000 people.