DAMASCUS - Syria's exiled opposition will be barred from a presidential election to be held before July, virtually ensuring Bashar al-Assad's reelection three years into an uprising against his family's four-decade rule.
Saturday marks the third anniversary of Syria's revolt, which began as a series of mass protests calling for democratic change but deteriorated into an insurgency and then a civil war after the regime launched a brutal crackdown on dissent.
Assad has remained in power despite fighting that has killed more than 140,000 people and driven millions from their homes, as rebels have seized large swathes of the country and entire neighbourhoods have been reduced to rubble.
The opposition has repeatedly insisted Assad must step down as part of any peace agreement, most recently in two rounds of failed talks held earlier this year.
In keeping with a new constitution adopted in 2012, the elections will for the first time be open to multiple candidates, including from outside the Baath Party of Assad, who has not announced his candidacy but is widely expected to seek another seven-year term.
But a new electoral law approved by parliament Thursday says any candidate must have lived in Syria for the past 10 years and not hold any other nationality, in effect barring any member of the National Coalition, an umbrella opposition group based in Istanbul.
The only opposition candidates who appear eligible would be those from the tolerated opposition in Damascus, who have little popular support and no connection to the rebels battling to overthrow Assad.
The election must be called 60 to 90 days before the end of Assad's term on July 17.
Previous elections in Syria have been referendums to confirm the candidate chosen by the ruling Baath party, whose power was entrenched in a 1973 constitution.
Hafez al-Assad came to power in 1970, and when he died in 2000 his son Bashar took over.