Syrians in government areas vote in first local polls since 2011

It held parliamentary elections in 2016 and a presidential vote in 2014 that renewed President Bashar Assad’s rule for another seven years. (File/AFP)
Updated 16 September 2018
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Syrians in government areas vote in first local polls since 2011

  • “More than 40,000 candidates are competing for 18,478 seats across all provinces,” SANA reported
  • Syria last held local elections in December 2011, just nine months into the conflict

DAMASCUS: Syrians in government-controlled areas cast their ballots on Sunday in the first local elections there since 2011, when the country’s ill-fated uprising erupted against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.

Seven years since the last vote, the conflict has killed more than 360,000 people, forced millions more to flee, and left the economy in tatters.

Now, Syrian troops are back in control of around two-thirds of the country after a string of victories, most recently around Damascus and in southern Syria.

Polling booths opened at 7:00 am (0400 GMT) across government-held parts of the country and will be open for 12 hours, with a potential five-hour extension depending on 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.

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

“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 Kabbadi.

There appeared to be fewer people heading to the polls than in previous presidential or parliamentary elections, particularly as Sunday 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.

The channel also showed images of voting in Deir Ezzor, the eastern city recaptured in full last year by Syrian troops after fierce battles against the Islamic State group.

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

Syrian troops have amassed around the opposition bastion for weeks, although an expected assault appears to be on hold for now as regime ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey try to hash out a deal on Idlib.

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 Humam, a 38-year-old working in the capital’s Mazzeh district who opted to stay at home on Sunday.

“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.

Council members serve four-year terms at the municipal level and are mostly responsible for service provision and other administrative matters.

Those elected in this round are expected to have more responsibilities than their predecessors, particularly linked to reconstruction and urban development.

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 Assad’s reign for another seven years.


Putin and Erdogan in Turkey to mark key phase in pipeline

Updated 27 min 51 sec ago
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Putin and Erdogan in Turkey to mark key phase in pipeline

  • The two leaders are marking the completion of the offshore part of TurkStream’s two lines
  • Turkey relies on imports for its energy needs and Russia is its top supplier for natural gas

ISTANBUL: Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are in Istanbul to mark the completion of a key phase in a natural gas pipeline.
The two leaders on Monday are marking the completion of the offshore part of TurkStream’s two lines that will carry natural gas from Russia to Turkey.
The lines when finished are expected to supply Russian gas to European markets through Turkish territories. Together the two 930-kilometer (578-mile) lines via the Black Sea will carry 31.5 billion cubic meters (1.1 trillion cubic feet) of natural gas annually.
Turkey relies on imports for its energy needs and Russia is its top supplier for natural gas. It bought 28 billion cubic meters last year. That gas is currently transported through another line under the Black Sea and the onshore West Line through Ukraine, which is mired in conflict with Russia.