Last week, international political pressure increased on the Syrian government to end the bloodshed in the county and to cede power to a democratic elected civilian government. After Russia and China vetoed a resolution on Syria in the Security Council of the United Nations, a referendum was announced by President Bashar Assad, a non-binding resolution passed the General Assembly, China and Russia sent envoys to begin ‘peaceful talks’, many countries recalled their ambassadors and a new political opposition bloc has been established in the country.
On 16 February, Assad ordered a referendum to take place on 26 February. The Syrians will vote for a new constitution that legalises other political parties than the Baath Party, which is currently in power. According to a Syrian ambassador, it will create “a state of political pluralism”. Furthermore, the draft will limit the presidential terms to two seven-year terms. Assad is now presiding the Baath party and country for almost 12 years. Assad ensured that the constitutional draft will include freedom as a “a sacred right” and that a violation of personal freedom will be punished by law. He added that a committee set up in October drafted the new constitution.
The referendum would end almost 50 years of single party rule in the country. However, the amendments on the constitution might not be enough for the opposition, as they now demand the ouster of the president as well. The international opinion varies, as Russia encourages the initiative whereas the U.S. rejected the vote as “laughable”. Moreover, many countries stated that the reform is coming to late to salvage the deteriorating situation.
Following the veto by Russia and China in the Security Council, a new resolution was proposed by many Arab countries in the United Nations’ General Assembly (GA) on 16 February. This resolution condemned the violent repressive actions on dissent by the government and was adopted with 137 votes in favour and 12 against. Furthermore the resolution stipulated the withdrawal of security forces and the cessation of all violence against civilians.
Russia again rejected the resolution, although it has no veto rights in the GA, explaining that the draft merely direct demands on the regime and it does not focus on the armed opposition. Despite the fact that resolutions adopted by the GA are non-binding, they reflect the international opinion on major issues and send a severe message to regimes.
New political bloc
Meanwhile, a new opposition bloc has been established by prominent Syrian opposition members. The bloc, called ‘The National Bloc for Change’, seeks to topple the regime of Assad, secure the goals of the revolution, backs the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and aims pursue democratic reforms in Syria. “The organization came into being to support the revolution and to consolidate its principles … and to spur participation in building a future that includes all of the Syrians,” stated Ammar Qarbi, one of its founders. Presently, the Syrian National Council (SNC) and Syrian Coordination Council are the only two main opposition blocs. The new opposition bloc is established because the founders did not perceive the SNC as a clear reflection of the society. However, the ‘new’ Syria will not be governed by one bloc, they ensured.
The international community increasingly isolates Syria. Many countries, including the Arab countries and many western nations, withdrew their ambassadors from Syria. On 19 February, Egypt as the last country reduced their ties as well with Damascus. China and Russia however, still believe in peaceful talks. Last weekend, they sent envoys to the country to negotiate with the regime. The two superpowers are against any form of international interference that affects the sovereignty of countries. Yet, the resulting isolation of Syria and the difficulties for the regime to preserve power become prevalent. What will happen remains to be seen.
Sources: Al Arabiya news 1, 2, 3, Al Jazeera, Time, The Guardian
Image Flickr: by FreedomHouse