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Syria Presses on with Constitutional Referendum

Russia's support for beleaguered Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remains fiercely intact despite international condemnation of its veto at the UN Security Council. Following a meeting between al-Assad and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier this week, Syria insists on dialogue and national solutions, the only remaining one being the original constitutional referendum plan issued by al-Assad last October as part of a larger package of reforms. According to state-run media outlet SANA, a draft was submitted to the President a few days ago. Earlier today, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Rybakov applauded the new constitutional draft as a major step towards elections. Lavrov also announced that Syria will set a date for its constitutional referendum soon.

The most controversial article of the current 1973 constitution is Article 8, which establishes the socialist Baathist party as "the leading party in the society and the state." Long unpopular with Syrians, the article entrenches the current regime and could fuel civil war if retained in the new draft. Al-Assad promised this section of the constitution would receive particular attention by the drafting committee. However, with its membership drawn mostly from the Baathist party and the eleven other parties comprising the pro-regime National Progressive Front, genuine reform is inconceivable. This constitutional process remains in the control of the current government, with the Arab League's plan for a constitutional assembly to form five months after new elections roundly defeated at the UN. Despite President Obama's latest condemnation of the constitutional promise, the lack of an actionable intervention plan and apparent international will to check massive violence in Syria allows this constitutional chimera to live on.

--Cindy Tan

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