News / Middle East

Syrians Vote on New Constitution as Death Toll Mounts

A Syrian woman displays her ballot at a polling station during a referendum on the new constitution, in Damascus, Syria, Sunday, February 26, 2012.
A Syrian woman displays her ballot at a polling station during a referendum on the new constitution, in Damascus, Syria, Sunday, February 26, 2012.

The Syrian government held a referendum Sunday on a new constitution, as it continued a military offensive that has left scores of people dead across the country.  Witnesses say government forces are attacking a number of places with artillery, rockets, mortars and tanks shells in a bid to crush a growing opposition movement.  

Witnesses say dozens of people were killed or wounded as Syrian government forces shelled towns and villages across the country for the 23rd day.  The besieged district of Baba Amr in Homs was the most badly hit, while districts and suburbs of Deir ez Zor, Daraa, Idlib and Hama were also targeted.

The offensive took place as the government conducted a nationwide referendum on a new constitution - the show-piece of a series of reforms promised by President Bashar al-Assad.

The new document will allow new political parties to form, as long as they are not ethnic or sectarian.  It also sets a presidential term limit of two seven-year terms.  But the limit would not be retroactive, meaning that Mr. Assad, in power 11 years, could serve another two terms after his current one expires in 2014.

Syrian state television showed Mr. Assad and his wife Asma voting in Damascus.  He defended the reporting of the state TV, insisting it was “telling the facts,” while Arab satellite channels were “distorting reality."

State television showed citizens turning out to vote at dozens of polling stations across the country and insisted the turnout was heavy. The head of a polling station in central Damascus said many people had come.

Hundreds of people were interviewed by state TV, and each of them expressed support for the new constitution.  

In contrast, Arab satellite channels interviewed dozens of people in opposition-controlled areas, and all of them complained that the referendum had little or no meaning.  Opposition videos showed people casting votes into trash cans, and others burning their ballots.

Peter Harling, of the International Crisis Group, says the new constitution would have been a major reform one year ago. “The regime behaves as if nothing happened between April 2011 and February 2012, as if whole segments of this society had not mobilized and had not been radicalized by the violence, as if the economy had not collapsed, as if the president had not lost the trust of a large part of this society, as if the security services were no a problem.  Nothing in the constitutional reform even starts to address the two issues which are seen as central by many Syrians, which are unaccountable family rule and the behavior of the security services," he said.

Harling adds that the authorities can continue to “crush entire neighborhoods” militarily, but that such violence only further alienates sections of society.

Analyst Nadim Shehadi of Chatham House in London says the Syrian government is trying to strengthen its weakening hand, both with its apparent reforms and its attempts to portray the opposition as terrorists.

"The regime relies on de-legitimizing the opposition, because the opposition says that it is non-violent, that's it's non-sectarian, that it is going to move towards democracy in Syria, which is inclusive, and what the regime is saying is that these are al-Qaida sectarian terrorists and that this is the beginning of a civil war," he said.

Shehadi argues that many Western leaders are inadvertently strengthening the regime's hand by “making statements that endorse its narrative” of fighting terrorism, at the expense of the opposition's narrative that it is “peaceful and non-violent.”

Join the conversation on our social journalism site -
Middle East Voices
. Follow our Middle East reports on
Twitter and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

Missile sales, oil and gas shipments are among many areas that may drive Beijing and Moscow closer together in coming years More

Obama Faces Chaotic World, Limits of Power

Current foreign policy issues bring into focus challenges for US policymakers who are mindful of Americans' waning appetite for overseas military engagements More

SADC Meeting Lesotho Officials to Resolve Stalemate

Official says regional bloc has been engaged with leaders in Lesotho to resolve political disagreement that led to coup attempt More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid