Syrian parliament finalizes list of candidates for presidential election
Syria's rubber-stamp parliament was due to meet on Wednesday to finalise the list of candidates in next month's presidential election, which is almost certain to return Bashar al-Assad for a fourth term.
Previous presidential elections in Syria have not been free or fair.
The high constitutional court has notified parliament that 44 people have so far submitted their names ahead of Wednesday's deadline, according to the Syrian regime’s SANA news agency.
They still need to garner support from at least 35 members of the 250-seat parliament, which is dominated by Assad's Baath party and with lawmakers only allowed to endorse one candidate.
The May 26 election would be the second to be held since the start of a 10-year-long conflict which began with the brutal suppression of peaceful pro-democracy protests by the Assad regime.
More than 500,000 people have been killed in the conflict, mostly as a result of regime bombardment of civilian areas, and over half of Syria's pre-war population have been forced from their homes.
With the exception of Assad, who has been in power for 21 years, the contenders are mostly little-known figures who are unlikely to mount a serious challenge.
Assad won a previous election in 2014, rejected as “illegitimate” by the US and the EU, with over 90% of the vote.
One of the two other candidates allowed to run at the time effectively told Syrians to vote for Assad, saying the country needed him to continue.
The pro-regime Al-Watan newspaper said parliament will likely hold the vote by Wednesday evening, after the high constitutional court stops receiving applications from presidential hopefuls.
But it remains unclear when parliament will announce the final list of approved candidates for the ballot.
Electoral law stipulates that candidates need to have lived in Syria continuously for at least the past decade, which rules out all exiled opposition figures.
In 2000 and 2007 Assad ran unopposed in referendums which gave him over 99% of the vote.
Syria is currently grappling with a severe economic crisis that has seen the value of the lira plummet against the dollar on the black market.