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15 Feb, 2012 09:31

Syrian referendum on new constitution announced for 26 Feb.

Syrian state TV has announced the government will hold a referendum on a new constitution on February 26, in an attempt to end the conflict that has wracked the country for 11 months.

President Assad has confirmed a new constitution has been drafted, but the referendum had previously been scheduled for March.The draft constitution was handed over to Assad last week by members of the drafting committee. The new document reportedly includes a chapter that stipulates an end to the political monopoly of the ruling Baath party.When the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March last year, the opposition was pushing for constitutional reform. In Washington, the referendum was dismissed as “laughable.”"It makes a mockery of the Syrian revolution. Promises of reforms have been usually followed by increase in brutality and have never been delivered upon by this regime since the beginning of peaceful demonstrations in Syria," said White House spokesman Jay Carney on Wednesday.The Syrian opposition groups now say that they will settle for nothing less than Assad’s resignation."A year ago, the opposition was demanding political reforms, now the chief spokesperson from the Syrian opposition abroad, and various rebel armed groups say nothing short of the fall of Assad, or even his execution, is acceptable,” Professor Mark Almond from the University of Bilkent in Turkey told RT.

Political analyst Omar Nashabe thinks President Assad is taking a huge step forward by presenting a new draft of the Syrian constitution.The most crucial changes, Nashabe says, are removing the Baath party as the only party in the government, and proposing a seven-year presidential term with a maximum of two terms served. Asked if the proposed constitution is sufficient for bringing the opposition to the negotiating table, Nashabe said it would be if it was for the opposition to decide – but strong Western influence could get in the way.