Syria’s parliament announced Wednesday that six more people have expressed a wish to stand for the presidency in a June 3 election widely expected to return Bashar al-Assad to power.

That brings to 17 the total number of would-be candidates for an election that has been mocked as a “farce” by the opposition and as a “parody of democracy” by the United States.

After Thursday’s deadline for registering, parliament will examine their applications to see if they meet the requirements.

In the end, however, there will only be three candidates because of a complex set of rules requiring that each one get the backing of a certain number of MPs.

Assad will obviously be one of the three.

Parliament speaker Mohammad al-Lahham announced six new names, among them three who come from areas currently under rebel control.

They are Mahmoud Halbuni, aged 68; Mohammad al-Kanaan, 50; Ahmad al-Abboud, 52; Khaled al-Kreidi, 48; Bashar al-Ballah, 81 and Ayman al-Issa, 47.

In theory, the election will be Syria’s first multi-candidate presidential poll in more than 50 years.

Assad and his late father and predecessor, Hafez, were always elected through referendums, with no rivals running against them.

But the election has been criticised, mainly because of a series of constraints that make it effectively impossible for a genuine regime opponent to run.

Among them is the stipulation that anyone who has lived outside Syria in the past decade is excluded from running, effectively barring most prominent opposition figures, who live in exile.

At the same time, the vote will only be held in areas under government control.

The election is being held amid a brutal civil war that has killed more than 150,000 people and made millions homeless.

The regime has barred from voting those refugees who left the country illegally.