[JURIST] Over 80 percent of voters in Syria [JURIST news archive] have voted to approve the new Syrian constitution [text], officials said Monday. The proposed constitution will impose term limits on the president as well as provide for a multi-party system. However, the term limits will theoretically begin once the constitution passes, meaning President Bashar al-Assad's previous time in office will not be counted against the term limits. Sunday's referendum in which Syrians has been called a "farce" by Western leaders and has been condemned [Independent report] as a "sham vote" which cannot be a way of resolving the violence taking place in Syria. Syrian state television announced the approval, along with a report of 57.4 percent voter turnout. Earlier Monday, the EU agreed to impose new sanctions on Syria [Telegraph report], including an asset freeze of the Syrian Central Bank. EU foreign ministers have also agreed to forbid cargo flights from Syria into the EU and restrict the trade gold and silver between Syria and the EU.
The new constitution provides for freedom of speech, press, assembly and association [JURIST report] in Articles 42 through 45, which some see as a step in the right direction. The referendum is an attempt to calm 11 months of protests and general opposition to the Assad regime. Activists estimate that more than 7,500 people have died since Assad began cracking down on protesters. The UN General Assembly voted earlier this month to condemn Syria through a non-binding resolution [JURIST report]. The resolution supported a plan advanced by the Arab League that aims to bring the situation in the country to a close as quickly as possible by encouraging Assad to step down.