Syrians in government areas vote since 2011 in initial local polls

DAMASCUS: Syrians in government-controlled areas have cast their votes on Sunday in the first local elections since 2011, when the country's unfortunate uprising against the reign of President Bashar al-Assad broke out.

Seven years after the last election, the conflict has killed more than 360,000 people, forced millions more to flee and left the economy in ruins.

Now, after a series of victories, most recently in Damascus and southern Syria, Syrian troops regain control of about two thirds of the country.

At 7:00 am (4:00 GMT), polling stations opened in government controlled parts of the country. They will be open for 12 hours, with a possible extension of five hours, the state news agency SANA reported.

He said more than 40,000 candidates would compete for 18,478 seats on local boards.

In Damascus, election posters, mostly office holders, were plastered in public places, including the old town.

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

"I know exactly who I will vote for – he is young, active and his victory will bring good things to the inhabitants of this area," Kabbadi said.

It seemed that fewer people were going to the polls than in previous presidential or parliamentary elections, especially since Sunday was a normal working day.

Nevertheless, the Syrian state television broadcast footage of voters in Damascus and the coastal government bastions of Tartus and Latakia.

They dropped their ballots in plastic boxes as election officials watched.

The channel also featured images of election in Deir Ezzor, the eastern city, which was completely taken over by Syrian troops last year after fierce battles against the Islamic State group.

There were no reconciliations in areas outside of government control, including Kurdish parts of the northeast and the largest rebel-owned area, the northwestern Idlib province, home to some three million people.

Syrian troops have been gathering for weeks around the opposition bastion, although an expected attack is currently on hold as regime ally Russia and rebel supporter Turkey are trying to negotiate a deal on Idlib.

The vast majority of candidates are members of or affiliated with the ruling Baath Party, which prevents some from voting.

"Why vote? Will things change, let's face it," said Humam, a 38-year-old working in the Mazzeh district of the capital, who decided to stay home on Sunday.

"Everyone knows that the results will be sealed in advance for a single party whose members will win in a process closer to an appointment than a vote."

The number of seats had slightly increased from the approximately 17,000 posts available in the last elections, as smaller villages had been promoted to full-fledged communities.

Members of the Council have a four-year mandate at local level and are primarily responsible for the provision of services and other administrative matters.

Those elected in this round are expected to be more responsible than their predecessors, especially in the context of reconstruction and urban development.

Syria last held local elections in December 2011, just nine months after the conflict.

General elections were held in 2016 and a presidential election was held in 2014, which again extended Assad's reign by seven years.

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