Abdel-Azim was alluding to the fact that of the 250 parliamentary seats available, 167 are reserved for the ruling National Progressive Front (NPF) coalition, led by president Bashar al-Assad's Baath party. The party itself is guaranteed 131 seats, or 52 percent of the total.

Familiar winner

The other 83 seats are allocated to so-called independent candidates that are "close to the authorities," according to Abdel-Azim.

"The NPF will come out the winner", he said, as it has done in all organised elections since 1973.

The official SANA news agency, which also reported that 2,500 candidates were standing for the 250 seats in the assembly.

The US dismissed the elections as a useless exercise.

However, an official Syrian newspaper said Damascus had never needed "democratic" advice from abroad.

The election is the second since al-Assad took over power in 2000 from his father.

Voting was slow on Sunday indicating residents may be split on whether the election, totally lacking in suspense for most people, would bring any change.

The vote was taking place "in total freedom and transparency", SANA said, without giving turnout figures for the first day.