Syrians vote in local polls after almost 7 years

DAMASCUS • Syrians in government-controlled areas cast their ballots yesterday in the first local elections since 2011, when the country's ill-fated uprising erupted against President Bashar al-Assad's rule.

Polling booths opened at 7am across government-held parts of the country and were expected to be open for 12 hours, with a potential five-hour extension, depending on the turnout, reported state news agency Sana. It said more than 40,000 candidates would compete for 18,478 seats on local administrative councils.

In Damascus, election posters, mostly featuring incumbents, were plastered across public squares, including in the Old City.

Mr Mohammad Kabbadi, a 42-year-old government employee, cast his ballot in the Bab Sharqi district of the capital for a candidate from his neighbourhood.

"I know exactly who I am going to vote for - he's young, active and his victory will bring good things to residents of this area," said Mr Kabbadi.

There appeared to be fewer people heading to the polls than in previous presidential or parliamentary elections, particularly as yesterday was a regular work day.

Still, Syrian state television broadcast footage of voters around Damascus and in the coastal government bastions of Tartus and Latakia. They dropped their ballots into plastic boxes as election officials looked on.

No voting was taking place in areas outside government control, including Kurdish-held parts of the north-east and the largest rebel-held piece of territory, north-west Idlib province, home to some three million people.

A vast majority of the candidates are members of the ruling Baath party or affiliated to it, which deterred some people from casting their ballot.

"Why vote? Will anything change? Let's be honest," said Ms Humam, a 38-year-old working in the capital's Mazzeh district who opted to stay at home yesterday.

"Everyone knows the results are sealed in advance for a single party, whose members will win in a process that's closer to an appointment than it is to an election."

The number of seats had slightly increased from the roughly 17,000 available posts in the last elections, as smaller villages had been promoted to fully fledged municipalities.

Syria last held local elections in December 2011, just nine months into the conflict. It held parliamentary elections in 2016 and a presidential vote in 2014 that renewed Mr Assad's reign for another seven years.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 17, 2018, with the headline 'Syrians vote in local polls after almost 7 years'. Print Edition | Subscribe