Despite the continuing violence in Syria, President Bashar-al Assad yesterday went ahead with a referendum on a new constitution that could keep him in power until 2028.
Assad claims the vote shows his commitment to democratic reform, however Western powers and Syria’s opposition have described it as a farce.
A spokesperson for the regime said there was a high turnout in most provinces although not in all – possibly referring to those areas under continued bombardment.
Reaction among Syria’s Arab neighbours has been cool. Speaking in Qatar, Morocco’s Prime Minister Abdililah Benkirane said: “There should have been initiatives to stop the bloodshed first, and then there could have been a referendum which could have protected the United Syria we used to know.”
Also in Qatar,Tunisia’s Foreign Minister Rafiq Abdel-Salam added: “The constitution is disappointing, it doesn’t include anything worth mentioning. In fact it doesn’t include any radical changes. The ruling party’s dominance in one form or other will continue to dominate. Bashar al-Assad remains in power. This constitution does not meet the ambitions and aspirations of the Syrian people.”
The referendum has the tacit support of both Russia and China which recently vetoed UN Security Council moves to back an Arab League plan pushing for Assad to hand over power. Both countries see political reform as the way to end the violence. The result of the vote is expected later today.