by Ray Fleming

The proposal by Syria's President Assad to hold a referendum on a new constitution on February 26 and to follow that with an election within ninety days would be laughable if it were not obscene. Just how the citizens of Homs and Hama who have taken the brunt of the Syrian army's assaults can be expected to participate in this referendum in just eleven days from now must be left to President Assad's distorted imagination.

For years he has promised to make reform proposals but has always found reasons not to do so.
Now, in the middle of what is virtually a civil war, he asks for approval of changes that would establish a multi-party system in which “the people will govern the people”.

Perhaps President Assad thinks that this move will be welcomed by Russia as evidence that its support of him is justified by his reforming instincts.
That's unlikely and for most of the rest of the world it will be dismissed out of hand and seen as further evidence of Assad's detachment from the reality of what is happening in his country today. The draft constitution has a provision for a maximum of two six-year terms for the country's president; Mr Assad has now served for eleven years so, interpreted retrospectively, this could enable him to step down almost immediately. That would have almost everyone's support.

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