Four new candidates join Syria presidential race

DAMASCUS - Four new candidates have submitted applications to run for Syria's presidency in elections that are expected to return President Bashar al-Assad to power next month, the parliamentary speaker said Tuesday.

Mohamed al-Lahham announced the names of the four new candidates, among them a woman and a Christian, in a session of parliament in the capital Damascus.

The new candidates bring the number of people seeking to run for president in the June 3 elections to 11, including Assad, who announced his candidacy on Monday.

The four new hopefuls are Ali Wanous, Azza Mohamed Al-Hallaq, Talea Salah Nasser and Samih Mikhael Moussa.

Like most of the candidates so far announced, they are relative unknowns.

Hallaq's application brings the number of women competing in the vote to two.

Syria's constitution requires that candidates for the presidency be Muslim, but a source in the constitutional court confirmed that Moussa is Christian.

"We receive all applications for presidential candidacy and transmit them to the parliament," the source said.

"In the five days after the candidacy period ends, on May 5, we will examine the candidates to see if they meet all requirements. On May 6, we will announce who has met the conditions," he added.

The elections, Syria's first multi-candidate presidential vote after a constitutional amendment did away with the previous referendum system, are scheduled for June 3.

But with a brutal civil war raging and large swathes of the country beyond the control of the government, it remains unclear how it will organise the vote.

Nearly half of the country's population has been forced to flee their homes, many crossing into neighbouring countries to seek refuge.

Syria's electoral commission said Monday that those who had left the country "illegally" would not be allowed to vote.

The decision is likely to affect many refugees who crossed through rebel-held border posts into neighbouring countries or were smuggled out of Syria.

Assad, who became president after his father Hafez died in 2000, is widely expected to win another seven-year term.

Electoral rules prevent anyone who has lived outside Syria in the past decade from running, effectively excluding most prominent opposition figures, who live in exile.

More than 150,000 people have been killed in Syria since the country's conflict began in March 2011 with peaceful anti-government protests.