Syr­i­ans vote in lo­cal polls af­ter al­most 7 years

The Straits Times - - WORLD -

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, in- clud­ing in the Old City.

Mr Mo­ham­mad Kab­badi, a 42year-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 re­bel­held 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.

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