Syria calls referendum on constitution
Damascus - Syria's president has decreed to hold a referendum later this month for a new constitution that would effectively end nearly 50 years of single party rule, state media said on Wednesday.
"President Bashar Assad issued today a decree setting Sunday, February 26, as the date for the referendum on the proposed constitution," the official SANA news agency reported.
Assad has said the constitution would usher in a "new era" for Syria, the agency reported.
Under the new charter, freedom is "a sacred right" and "the people will govern the people" in a multi-party democratic system based on Islamic law, state television reported.
The proposed constitution does away with Article 8 of the old charter which declared the Baath Party, in power since 1963, as the "leader of the state and society".
But it fell short of what was required to appease the opposition in Syria, said Paul Salem, head of the Beirut-based Carnegie Middle East Centre.
"Political reform is a process that needs some basic elements. It must include the opposition which has not been the case," Salem said in Beirut.
"It has to be based on negotiation, agreement, consent. And holding a referendum, like holding an election in any country, requires stability... it also logistically takes time," he said.
"It's good that the regime at any point talks about reform or fundamental change, but... holding a referendum amid a civil war between the government and its people is unacceptable."
On Sunday, a commission tasked with drawing up a new constitution submitted a draft charter to Assad, SANA reported, adding he would review it and send it to the People's Assembly before a vote.
"When the new constitution is approved, Syria will have passed the most important stage" of reforms leading to a 'new era' for its people and bringing a "brilliant future for next generations", it quoted him as saying at the time.
In January, Assad said a new constitution was being drawn up by a committee set up in October to replace the current one, which enshrines his Baath party's dominant role.
He said then it could be put to a popular vote as early as March, although that date for the ballot has now been brought forward.