Syria's parliament on Thursday approved a new election law which for the first time in decades allows multiple candidates to run for president, just months before the war-torn nation heads to the polls.
However the new law prevents exiled opposition leaders from running against President Bashar al-Assad, as it stipulates candidates must have lived in Syria for 10 consecutive years.
Damascus has not officially announced a presidential election but Assad is expected to seek a new seven-year term in the middle of this year despite a raging conflict that has killed more than 140,000 people and displaced millions in three years.
The election must be held between 60 and 90 days before the end of Assad's term on July 17.
Both Syria's opposition and international mediators have rejected plans to hold a presidential election in the middle of efforts to negotiate an end to the war.
"If there is an election, my suspicion is the opposition, all the oppositions will probably not be interested in talking to the government," said UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in a briefing to the Security Council.
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Previous elections in Syria under the powerful Assad clan, have been a referendum 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.
In 2012 a new constitution was approved in a referendum which brought in "political pluralism" in a bid to defuse the unrest in the country.
However the opposition slammed the referendum as a "joke".
The new clauses approved Thursday say presidential candidates must "be older than 40, must be Syrian, of Syrian parents... must not have been convicted for a crime... must not be married to a non-Syrian".
The candidate "must have lived in the Syrian Arab Republic for 10 consecutive years up until presenting his candidacy and must not hold a nationality other than Syrian," reads the text.
Parliament still has to approve other parts of the new law relating to legislative and municipal elections.