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

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years 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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs