On Sunday May 27, the Syrian people were forced to vote in a referendum to renew Bashar Assad’s term as president for another seven years. There was no choice as Assad ran uncontested.
But just in case, Syrians were also subjected to the usual intimidation tactics. Students were reportedly threatened of being denied their final grades should they boycott the referendum. Many school principles forced students to participate in the rallies under threat of suspension. (Arabic. Free Syria, 5/29/07).
Even Syrians living abroad were intimidated into voting “yes,” as they did not want to face harassment upon visiting their families in Syria. Nevertheless, the opposition in exile did stage sit-ins and rallies to protest the referendum. (Arabic. Levant News, 5/26/07).
Dissident Maamoun Homsi dubbed the referendum illegal citing breaches such allowing voting without proper identification, allowing the votes of thousands of students below voting age, constant intimidation by the security services throughout the voting process, and canceling the secret ballot. He called on the international community not to recognize the result of the referendum and to consider Assad’s new term illegal. (Arabic. Aafaq, 5/29/07).
For his part, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Ali Sadreddine Bayanouni considered that Assad’s policies, including the recent targeting of opposition symbols, “have proven that the path of political reform is shut.” (Arabic. Levant News, 5/29/07).
Meanwhile, Bashir al-Sa’di of the Assyrian Democratic Organization called for an amendment of the constitution to allow non-Muslims to become president, adding that the current constitution, which states that the president must be Muslim, treats Christians as second-class citizens. He also called for the elimination of Article 8, which states that the Baath Party is the leader of the state and society and Article 84, which dictates that the president must be a member of the Baath. (Arabic. AKI, 5/29/07).
Al-Sa’di added that the exaggerated festive spectacles suggest the continuation of the same old policies and the absence of any desire for reform.