Polls opened for Syrian local elections for the first time in seven years yesterday, but many citizens have vowed not to participate, as the government advances on the last opposition-held stronghold in Idlib. Polling booths opened yesterday morning at 7am and stayed open for 12 hours, with citizens voting for a selection of candidates approved by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.
"Voting centres opened for citizens to cast their ballots to elect their representatives in the local administrative councils," state news agency SANA reported. "More than 40,000 candidates are competing for 18,478 seats across all provinces."
Syria state television channels broadcast footage of voters in Damascus and the coastal regime bastions of Tartous and Latakia dropping their completed ballots into plastic boxes, overseen by election officials.
The Baath Party, which has controlled Syria's political and security apparatuses since the 1960s, is expected to sweep the polls. In some areas formerly held by the opposition, Russia will appoint the members of the local councils.
However, Syrians across several municipalities voiced their intention to boycott the vote, in protest that only regime-approved candidates were listed.
The southern province of Daraa, which was recaptured by Assad forces earlier this year, witnessed a widespread boycott of the poll from most segments of civil society, according to local residents, with participation rates from the Homs province below 30 per cent.
Polling stations in the capital as well as in some rural towns were reported to have been restricted to government employees and preselected citizens, in what many perceived as an effort to swing the vote in favour of the candidates most approved by the regime.
Pro-regime Facebook page Tartous24 also conducted a poll inviting people to state whether they would vote in the election. The results showed that 87 per cent of the 6,600 respondents said they would not participate, with many citing as the reason their belief that the results were fixed.
"Only in Syria are the names of candidates, winners, losers, voting ratios and the number of voters known before the election begins," one user said on Twitter.
في سوريا فقط
تعلم أسماء المرشحين والفائزين والخاسرين ونسب التصويت وأعداد المصوتين قبل أن تبدأ الانتخابات … ومع ذلك هناك أغبياء يجلسون لسماع فضائية الأسد تعلن نتائج الانتخابات.
— العميد ركن أحمد رحال (@rahhalahmad06) September 16, 2018
Northern territories controlled by US-backed Kurdish militias did not participate in the vote, after the Syrian Democratic Council, which governs the region, refused to allow the Damascus-organised elections to proceed. Kurdish officials have stated that they want the implementation of a federal system in Syria that will guarantee the north-east's autonomy from Damascus and protect the rights of minorities.
In 2014, Syria's presidential elections were held in limited areas under government control. The result saw President Assad's rule extended until 2021.
The Assad regime is currently advancing on the northern province of Idlib, with fears of an imminent large-scale offensive rising. The UN, Turkey and Western nations have warned repeatedly that any major assault could spark one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the war so far. The province is home to some three million people, half of whom are internally displaced from other parts of Syria.