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Syria's president Assad to face two 'rivals' in May vote

Campaigning is set to start on May 11

By AFP - May 04,2021 - Last updated at May 04,2021

A public transport bus drives past a billboard bearing a portrait of Syria's President Bashar Al Assad at Al Thawra Street in the capital Damascus on Monday, ahead of this month's presidential elections. Arabic slogan on billboard reads: 'Because you are from and for the people, we love you' (AFP photo)

DAMASCUS — A Syrian former minister and a member of the Damascus opposition will face Bashar Al Assad in this month's presidential election, the constitutional court said Monday.

The court approved only three out of 51 applications to stand in the May 26 ballot, among them the 55-year-old president himself, widely expected to win a fourth mandate.

The 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 regime.

All 48 other applications were ruled out for "failing to meet constitutional and legal requirements", the court president said without elaborating.

They have until May 7 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 prewar population from their homes.

Damascus has invited lawmakers from allied countries such Russia, Iran, China, Venezuela and Cuba to observe the electoral process.

In New York last week, Western members of the UN Security Council, led by the United States, France and Britain, rejected the outcome of the May 26 poll in advance, a position denounced by Russia as "unacceptable".

Assad, who has already been in power for 21 years, was elected by referendum in 2000 and 2007.

For the first multi-candidate poll in 2014, only two candidates besides Assad, out of 24 applicants, were allowed to run.

Campaigning is set to start on May 11, while Syrians abroad can vote at their embassies on May 20.

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