The Syrian regime will use the referendum on a new constitution to try to prove its legitimacy in the face of Western condemnation of its deadly crackdown on dissent, analysts said on Tuesday.
“This referendum is a success for the Syrians who have faith in reforms and is a defeat for the Arab regimes and the West who want to destabilize our country,” government daily Tishrin said.
The new constitution was approved by 89.4 percent of votes cast in Sunday’s referendum which saw 57.4 percent of those eligible casting their votes, despite boycott calls and fresh bloodshed, according to official figures.
“The regime will use the referendum to say it has the majority of the people with it, it has undertaken reforms and is fighting against the Salafist groups and terrorists,” said Hilal Khashan, professor of political science at the American University of Beirut.
But “the numbers don’t make sense in the middle of this bloodbath,” he said.
The opposition had called for a boycott of the referendum, which abolishes the monopoly of Assad’s Baath party but leaves considerable powers in the hands of the head of state.
President “Bashar al-Assad may use the referendum to reassure his supporters by telling them ‘you were right to believe I am a reformist,’“ said Thomas Pierret, lecturer of contemporary Islam at the University of Edinburgh.
“And it can be used by his Russian ally to tell the West: ‘See, Assad made reforms,’ “he said.
“But objectively speaking, the credibility of the referendum is lost. Its promise of reforms is meaningless. It will be believed by those who already support the plan, but will not convince any opponent, even the moderates.”
Pierret also doubted that 57 percent of registered voters cast their votes.
“This is a huge figure and probably fanciful, straight out of the imagination of Syrian officials... in a country in revolution and where the opposition called for a boycott of the vote, which was not even held in several regions,” he said.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland questioned how “any kind of democratic process” could take place while Syrian government guns, tanks and artillery were still firing into Homs and other cities.
“We dismiss it (the referendum) as absolutely cynical,” Nuland said of the balloting.
“Essentially what he’s done here is put a piece of paper that he controls to a vote that he controls so that he can try to maintain control,” Nuland said, referring to Assad.
The United Nations also cast doubt on the credibility of the referendum.
“It is unlikely to be credible in a context of pervasive violence and mass human rights violations,” U.N. deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey said.
Another expert on Syria, Bahout Joseph, professor at the Institute of Political Sciences in Paris, said the “regime will probably say that the numbers (of the referendum) give it absolute credibility.”
According to the monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, 7,600 people have been killed in a regime crackdown since the start of protests against Assad’s regime last March.