A Russian and a Chinese flag hang from a balloon during a rally of supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at al-Sabaa Bahrat square in Damascus
A Russian and a Chinese flag hang from a balloon during a rally of supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at al-Sabaa Bahrat square in Damascus Reuters

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's referendum for a new constitution allegedly contrived with the predominant aim of staying in power until 2028 was referred to as a sick joke by his opponents in the wake of bloodshed that coincided with the vote.

At least 59 Syrian civilians and soldiers were killed Sunday as shells and rockets bombarded the Sunni Muslim districts of Homs that have been withstanding numerous attacks by Assad's officers belonging to the minority Alawite sect, according to a Reuters report.

Assad is under immense pressure to step down from Sunni-dominated Islamic nations and his Syrian opponents. He proposed the referendum to show his commitment to democratic reforms though the West and Syrians involved in 11-month-old revolt against his decade-old regime described it as a farce.

Though the constitution for which referendum is being conducted does offer some reforms, it could also keep Assad in power until 2028.

The U.S., which is under pressure from other nations, including Russia, to keep out of the Syrian crisis, has warned Syria of every possibility of a civil war.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned the U.S. against a potential Syrian intervention: I very much hope the United States and other countries ... do not try to set a military scenario in motion in Syria without sanction from the U.N. Security Council.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton responded in a BBC interview on Sunday: We still have a very strong opposition to foreign intervention, from inside Syria, from outside Syria.

We don't have the United Nations Security Council approval, legitimacy, credibility, that comes with the international community making a decision, she said.

Assad's proposal for a new constitution, drafted by a committee of 29 people appointed by him, says the new political system would be based on pluralism, but bans the formation on parties on religious lines.

The president would retain broad powers, such as naming the premier and government and, in some cases, could veto legislation, according to a report by the AFP.

According to Article 88 of the proposed constitution, the president can be elected for two seven-year terms, but Article 155 says these conditions will take effect only after the next election for a head of state, set for 2014. These conditions with plenty of loopholes for misuse technically ensure Assad's stay in power for another 16 years.

This popular joke on Syrian Elections, as seen on The Arab Digest, rightly sums up what the West and the Syrian revolutionaries think of the referendum: A young Syrian woman went to the station polls. Over there, she mistakenly checked the no section on the ballot paper. Upon returning home, she recalled her error, and quickly notified her father, himself an Assad supporter. He angrily slapped her twice, then called the ballot station and explained the situation. The answer was quick: 'We saw the mistake and corrected it.'