Syria Holds Referendum As Violence Continues
President Bashar al-Assad’s government hailed the constitutional referendum as a move toward reform. But the vote did nothing to quash the 11-month long violence that continued to sweep through Syria over the weekend, according to CNN.
The proposed constitution would put an end to the ruling Baath Party’s stranglehold over Syria, and open the door to a multi-party system in the country.
Among the changes in the draft constitution is an article that states, "the law shall regulate the provisions and procedures related to the formation of political parties."
"Carrying out any political activity or forming any political parties or groupings on the basis of religious, sectarian, tribal, regional, class-based, professional, or on discrimination based on gender, origin, race or color may not be undertaken," it continues.
However, one critic dismissed the referendum as a ploy to get people to leave the streets, pointing out the document’s language suggests that government permission is needed to form new political parties.
"It will remain a presidential system with powers vested in the hands of the president,” said Andrew Tabler, Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Another provision of the constitution would be a presidential limit of two seven-year terms. But that limit would not be enacted until after Assad’s current term ends in 2014, meaning that the Syrian ruler of 11 years could be in power until 2028 if he manages to secure two seven-year terms, Reuters reported.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the referendum is “nothing more than a farce,” according to the Associated Press.
"Sham votes cannot be a contribution to a resolution of the crisis,” Westerwelle said. “Assad must finally end the violence and clear the way for a political transition."
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Assad’s most loyal supporters in business and the military to turn against him.
"The longer you support the regime's campaign of violence against your brothers and sisters, the more it will stain your honor," Clinton told reporters in Morocco. "If you refuse, however, to prop up the regime or take part in attacks, your countrymen and women will hail you as heroes."
This marks Syria’s third referendum since Assad inherited power from his late father, according to Reuters. The first installed him as president in 2000 with an official 97.62 percent of the vote, while the second earned him another term in 2007 with 97.62 percent in favor.
Activists predict that more than 7,500 people have been killed in the 11 months since Assad’s regime began its crackdown on the leader’s dissenters, according to the AP.