Violence has not abated in Syria one day after 70 countries met in Tunisia and demanded a ceasefire and just a day before a constitutional referendum that the opposition sees as a thinly veiled maneuver from President Bashar Assad’s regime.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the primary activist group reporting casualties, has claimed that up to 94 people across the country were killed on Saturday, including 68 civilians.
Since Assad’s father seized power in a 1963 coup, Syria has been a dictatorial family dynasty. But in an apparent attempt to placate international pressure and domestic unrest, Assad presented a revised charter which would theoretically create a multiparty system in Syria.
The opposition has called for a boycott of the referendum and it is not seen as a genuine effort by the international community, which has repeatedly called for Assad to step down.
But Assad still does enjoy support throughout the country – whether due to perks given to certain minorities, or out of fear of dissenting, or out of fear of sectarian civil war if Assad is ousted. Many Syrians have said they are eager to vote. Suhban Elewi, a 55-year-old businessman in Damascus, said “This constitution is not for one faction against the other. It is for the nation and for all the Syrian people.”
Elewi told the Associated Press he planned to vote yes, and dismissed opposition calls to boycott the vote. “The country is going forward with them or without them,” he said.
But in other parts of the country, the proposed reform sounded too much like Assad’s earlier promises from years past. And ongoing shelling of neighborhoods like Homs may prevent an even voting turnout throughout the country.
“How can they ask us to talk about a new constitution when they are shelling our neighborhood?” said Abu Mohammed Ibrahim from in the neighborhood of Baba Amr. “They are hitting us with all types of weapons. What constitution? What referendum?