Syria: President Assad orders referendum on new constitution as attacks worsen

Updated On: Feb 16, 2012

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria has ordered a referendum on a new constitution that is supposed to be part of the steps the Syrian government is taking as it works towards political reform. Committee members said that the document would guarantee “the dignity of the Syrian citizen and secures his basic rights”.

The referendum is set for Feb. 26, and is fully supported by Russia, which considers the constitution a key move in ending bloodshed in Syria. In a statement, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia believes “that the adoption of a new constitution in Syria is a step forward toward political pluralism”.

According to Former Syrian lawmaker George Jabbour, clause 8 of the new draft of the constitution “allows a multi-party system as opposed to the Baath party being the leady party of the society and the state as stipulated in the current constitution.” It also states that Presidents will only be allowed to run for two seven-year terms. Mr Assad is currently serving his 12th year. In addition to these major points, the creation of any political activity, gatherings or parties based on religion, ethnicity, tribe or religion is not allowed. Discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity or colour will be forbidden as well.

However, it has been reported that the drafted constitution will also give the president the right to decree laws, appoint the government and dissolve the parliament. In this, it is not much different from the constitution that is currently in place.

The Syrian opposition has dismissed President Assad’s move and condemned the act; it remains adamant that Mr Assad has to step down before any progress can be made on alleviating the Syrian crisis.

The US, on the other hand, has remained partly ambivalent on the matter. “From our perspective, it looks like he is putting forward a piece of paper that he controls, to a vote that he controls, in an effort to try and maintain control,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. “And frankly, it is not working in any other capacity, so we don’t think this is going to work, either.” However, White House spokesman Jay Carney gave a more forthright response, describing the referendum as “laughable” and saying that it “makes a mockery of the Syrian revolution”.

Officials from the US, the EU and the Arab League will attend a Friends of Syria meeting on Feb. 24 to discuss how they can help the Syrian opposition in its efforts to force Assad’s departure.

Meanwhile, Lavrov will be meeting French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe today to discuss a French proposal for a new Security Council resolution. Mr Juppe has been meeting several aid and human rights groups to discuss the support they could provide to Syrian civilians.

The UN General Assembly will hold another voting session later in the day on a nonbinding resolution proposed by the Arab League, which essentially calls for the withdrawal of Syrian military forces from residential areas.

In Homs, violence continues to worsen. A major oil pipeline exploded in the city on Wednesday, as regime troops/military spread their attacks to the nearby city of Hama, the northern province of Idlib, the eastern province of Deir el Zour and the southern province of Daraa. At least 32 people have been killed on Wednesday alone. Multiple rocket launchers were reportedly spotted in the Hamidiyya district of Hama.  

Report: Syria’s crackdown on rebels continues as Assad schedules vote on new constitution [Washington Post, 15 February]

Report: Syria constitution vote called ‘window dressing’ [CNN, 16 February 2012]

Report: Syria to hold referendum on new constitution [BBC, 15 February 2012]

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