Under pressure from street protests demanding the end to 41 years of Assad family rule, the president has lifted a state of emergency and promised "multi-party" parliamentary elections by February. But he has also deployed tanks and troops across the country to crush persistent demonstrations, casting doubt on the credibility of his reform gestures, pro-democracy activists say.
"President Assad issued today decree number 33 which stipulates forming a committee to prepare for a draft constitution," the state news agency SANA said.
The constitution, which was changed by Assad's late father, President Hafez al-Assad, in the 1970s, discourages any political pluralism by stipulating that the ruling Baath Party is "leader of the state and society."
The Syrian opposition has called for the clause to be scrapped, along with another that says the president can only be nominated by his Baath Party as well as numerous laws passed in the last 50 years which they say allow Assad and his security apparatus to practice repression and corruption with impunity.
The Baath banned opposition when it took power in a 1963 coup. The party organization has lost power and status in the last decade to Assad family members, some selected cohorts and the secret police, a bloc now underpinning the power structure.