War-torn Syria votes in first local election in years

DAMASCUS, Khalil Hamlo (dpa)- Syrians were voting Sunday in the first local elections in more than six years, a step aimed at showing the strength of the Russia-backed government that has recently made territorial gains against rebels.
Syria’s state news agency SANA reported a “good” voter turnout without giving specific figures.
However, only small numbers of voters in the capital Damascus and its rural suburbs had cast their ballots by noon in the balloting that started at 7 am (0400 GMT), dpa found during a tour of several polling stations.

“The provincial and municipal councils will shoulder great responsibilities, especially as some areas in rural Damascus have been destroyed in the war,” male voter Munzar Ahmed told dpa at a polling station in the capital’s southern suburb of Jarmana.
Around 40,000 candidates are vying for 18,478 seats on local councils nationwide, according to official figures.
Voting isn't being conducted in some provinces that are still outside the government’s control. Those provinces include al-Raqqa in the north-east, which is mostly ruled by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, which is supported by the United States.
The vote is also not being held in the north-western province of Idlib, which is mostly controlled by an Islamist alliance led by an al-Qaeda-linked group.
“These areas are still part of the election and have their candidates,” head of the electoral commission, Sulaiman al-Qaed, said.
He told dpa that voters from al-Raqqa and Idlib are allowed to cast their ballots in the central province of Hama.
Kurdish militants meanwhile blocked voting in most parts of the north-eastern province of al-Hassakeh, a local official said.
The Kurdish People’s Protection Units hampered the region's election by detaining at least local 500 contenders in the run-up to the balloting, the official said on condition of anonymity.
US-backed Kurdish militias control territory stretching across Syria’s north including most of al-Hassakeh.
Syria’s ethnic Kurdish minority is eyeing autonomy from the central government.
SANA reported that voting was under way in the southern province of Daraa, the birthplace of the 2011 uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Last month, the Syrian government said it was in full control of Daraa after it launched a major offensive supported by Russia.
About 16.2 million Syrians are eligible voters, according to al-Qaed.
He said the voting process was running smoothly and that the military had the right to vote after showing their identity cards. Polls close at 7 pm.
In the past few days, the government has repeatedly called on Syrians to vote in large numbers.
“This election is a message to the world that Syria’s people were and will remain united in the face of terrorism,” Minister of Local Administration, Hussein Makhlouf, said in a press statement.
The last local polls were held in February 2012. Syria's crisis began with peaceful anti-government demonstrations in March 2011.
The conflict soon spiralled into a multi-sided civil war that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and displaced about half of Syria's pre-war population of 22 million.

Monday, September 17th 2018
Khalil Hamlo (dpa)

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