Syria court approves Assad regime loyalists to run with Assad in 'sham' presidential elections
Only three out of 51 applications to stand in the 26 May ballot were approved by the body, appointed by Assad. Among them was the 55-year-old strongman himself.
The "sham" electoral process will see Assad extend his term as president despite his perceived opposition in the poll, experts say.
"The failure to enact a new constitution is proof positive that the so-called election on May 26 will be a sham," US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said last week, during a monthly session of the Security Council on Syria.
At the same meeting in New York, Western members of the UN Security Council, led by the United States, France and UK, rejected the outcome of the 26 May poll in advance, a position denounced by Russia as "unacceptable".
The Syrian court's president said in a press conference broadcast on state TV that Abdallah Salloum Abdallah, a state minister from 2016 to 2020, had been approved to run for president.
The third candidate was named as Mahmoud Marei, a member of the so-called "tolerated opposition" long described by exiled opposition leaders as an extension of the brutal regime that is responsible for the vast majority of the 500,000 killed during the Syria war.
All 48 other applications were ruled out for "failing to meet constitutional and legal requirements", the court president said without elaborating.
They have until 7 May to appeal.
Applicants needed to garner support from at least 35 members of parliament, each of whom is only allowed to back one candidate.
Exiled opposition members are de facto ruled out by an electoral law that stipulates candidates must have lived in Syria continuously for at least the past decade.
The election will be the second since the start of a decade-long conflict that has killed over 388,000 people and forced more than half of Syria's pre-war population from their homes.
Assad has invited lawmakers from allied countries such Russia, Iran, China, Venezuela and Cuba to observe the electoral process.
This comes as the brutal regime set up military reinforcements in Dara'a leading up to the elections, a region that is often described as the birth place of the Syrian revolution.
Regime forces established checkpoints in Da'el, as troops combed the surrounding area for potential insurgents, activist Mohammed Al-Hourani told The New Arab's sister publication, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.
Soldiers were seen firing indiscriminately in farming areas, frightening civilians, although no casualties were reported, the activist added.
Assad, who has already been in power for 21 years, was elected by referendum in 2000 and 2007, in which he has won all of them with what critics describe as a suspicious majority.
For the first multi-candidate poll in 2014, only two candidates besides Assad, out of 24 applicants, were allowed to run, in which captured another seven-year term after winning almost 90 percent of the vote.
Campaigning is set to start on 11 May, while Syrians abroad can vote at their embassies on 20 May.
The Syrian conflict began in 2011 after the regime led by dictator Bashar Al-Assad brutally repressed peaceful pro-democracy protests. His father and predecessor, Hafez al-Assad ruled Syria with an iron fist from 1971 until he died in 2000.
Around 1.2 million Syrians, or one in 18 of the population, are thought to have been arrested or detained at some point in the war. The Assad regime is notorious for its systemetic torture and murder of prisoners.
The regime has also forcibly disappeared tens of thousands of people believed to be critical of the regime.
The Syrian Network for Human Rights reported that in April alone, there were 147 cases of arbitrary detention with the Syrian regime said to be responsible for 56 of these cases.
Agencies contributed to this report.