By Press TV
By Mohiyeddin Sajedi
Although the referendum on a new constitution in Syria was watched with skepticism at the regional and international levels, it takes Syria to a new stage which makes challenging Damascus more difficult for domestic-foreign opposition.
According to data release by Syria’s Interior Ministry, 57.4 percent of Syrian people participated in the referendum, out of which 89 percent cast a yes vote to the new constitution.
In the new constitution, an individual can only be elected as president for two consecutive seven-year terms. The opposition says this means the presidency of Bashar al-Assad will be extended another 14 years, and given that two years is left of his current term he will remain in power for another 16 years.
Predicting a 16-year presidency term for al-Assad borders on prophesy. But if al-Assad quits at the end of his current term, these predictions will prove false. Nonetheless, some believe that if a presidential election is held in Syria right now, al-Assad will be elected once again, partly due to his popularity and partly due to Syrian people’s political and social habits as the political establishment did not allow plural thoughts to develop.
According to the referendum, which was in fact a vote of confidence to al-Assad, less than 60 percent of Syrian people want to gradually change the current situation based on the constitution. Voting was not held in some of the crisis-hit parts of Syria. However, this does not mean the remaining 40 percent completely oppose al-Assad. In general, almost 10 percent of people who do not participate in elections and referendums are the undecided. If these figures are correct, it can be assumed that nearly one quarter of Syrian people are opposed to the current regime. This level of opposition does not seem critical enough to justify asking for foreign help to overthrow the government.
However, internal political pressures have been strong enough to force Syria’s single-party establishment to change its structure. Al-Assad said he had intended to implement reforms in the country since the last decade; but the reforms would not have entailed Ba’ath party giving up power had it not been for the opposition’s pressure on the establishment.
One of the results of the referendum was that the Ba’ath party has lost power in the Arab world for ever. In Iraq, the US and its allies overthrew the party and in Syria, internal pressure.
Iraqi and Syrian branches of this party stood for “ethnic fundamentalism.” Perhaps this is why some analysts make a connection between the recent referendum in Syria and ongoing developments in the Arab world to conclude that the time for ethnic tendencies is over.
The Iraqi Ba’ath party has been ousted from power and outlawed, but it still exists. Although the Syrian Baath party may take part in parliamentary election and even win a considerable number of parliamentary seats, it is no more the dominant player and has to accept and tolerate rivals. This will also affect the fate of the Ba’ath party branches in other Arabian countries like Jordan, Yemen, Sudan, and Lebanon, pushing weak parties out of the political arena.
The main problem with the constitutional referendum in Syria is its legitimacy outside, rather than inside the country. Most Western governments have rejected the election with a UN spokesperson doubting its credibility. There is silence in many Arab states, where voting has no meaning. The United States is wary of arming the Syrian opposition, fearing this would increase the power of al-Qaeda and similar groups. However, governments of Saudi Arabia and Qatar have practically begun supplying arms to the opposition.
Militarization of popular uprisings will bring them alienation from the people. For Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, popular uprising is meaningless. Their utmost concern is the downfall of the Syrian regime even at the cost of widespread chaos and civil war in that country.
Arming the Syrian government’s opposition is reminiscent of the US plan in Nicaragua during the 1980s. The Ronald Reagan administration armed Contra groups to bring the Sandinista government to its knees through a war of attrition. This scenario will be carried out in Syria only when the Western governments decide to do so. At that time, terrorist organizations which later gave birth to al-Qaeda were under control of the US and its Arab allies. Although the United States is trying to reach an agreement with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi groups in Egypt and Tunisia, there is no guarantee that it would be able to do the same in Syria.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar are trying to repeat the Afghanistan model for Syria. Helping the Afghan Mujahedeen has been replaced, in Syria, by arming the Salafi groups. The result is the same. If the plan succeeds, a new Afghanistan will be born in the region whose crisis will be never solved.