Idlib – Enab Baladi
On 18 January 2017, the city of Idlib held elections for representatives on its local council. The elected representatives will form a new civic administration tasked with taking over public services and civic issues from Jaish al-Fatah’s administration, which has managed the city since opposition factions took control in April 2015.
According to Enab Baladi’s sources, Mohammad al-Ahmad, the city administration’s current president and representative of Jaish al-Fatah, was supposed to hold a closed meeting with the preparatory committee for the new city administration on 21 January 2017 in order to announce the new system. However, the meeting was postponed until 22 January to allow more time to reach agreement on the issue.
The former administration depended entirely on the factions that make up Jaish al-Fatah to help it function. The administration delegated its functions to various institutions within the administration including civil and security institutions, the consultative council, the commission, and the department for religious affairs based on quotas that were introduced after the “liberation” of Idlib in April 2015. This move was part of an attempt to solve the problems in the provision of electricity, communications and other services.
Despite its efforts, the administration received extensive criticism due to the incorporation of fighters into its various institutions. In addition, its budget was insufficient to meet all service needs, both in terms of administration and military. The administration was held responsible more than once for the city being targeted due to the presence of fighters on the streets and for its failure to force them to go to the front to fight.
All these factors led to calls for the administration to hand over power to a new civil administration managed by the city’s residents.
An unprecedented step for the city
At eight o’clock on the evening of Wednesday 18 January, the ballot boxes closed, while the candidates and their representatives remained to observe the counting process, which was managed by the elections committee and observation committee, comprised of three lawyers.
Bara Ez-Zeir, a member of the elections committee, told Enab Baladi that the observation committee supervised the counting process, using the “square system” (in which a large board is placed in front of candidates in order for them to see the results).
The elections are the first of their kind in the city and were widely welcomed by residents according to Bassam Zeidani, a committee member, as the committee worked to organize the process so as to avoid potential problems. He told Enab Baladi, “The condition set for voting in the elections is that the person is present themselves. We did not let anyone vote on behalf of someone else – even in cases where an individual has lost their identity card, we accepted any other form of official documentation.”
The committee gave each voter the right to choose a maximum of 25 candidates from among the 60 nominees. Abdul-Razzaq Sami, a voter, said he had chosen five candidates “on the basis of who has merit and qualifications and will present projects that will serve the country, and who were not given the opportunity to work before and were marginalized.”
Shareef Ghafeer, another voter, chose 13 candidates, “who are the most educated, experienced and have the best qualifications.” He told Enab Baladi, “I voted for a lawyer, Ayman Aswad, who is trying to serve his country but has not previously worked in any state institution although he has a great deal of expertise. We need people who will carry this country forward during this period.”
The Jaish al-Fatah factions took over Idlib City on 28 April 2015.
The factions took over management of the city and worked to establish an administration belonging to Jaish al-Fatah.
The judiciary, education, health, services and major institutions were brought under the control of the administration.
The administration faced much criticism despite its relative success in managing the city’s main institutions.
Citizens demanded a civilian-led administration and judiciary above the authority of the fighters and in which they cannot interfere “according to their whims”.
The preparations for a new civic administration began at the end of 2016.
The process for organizing “free” elections began at the start of 2017.
The voting period was extended for eight days due to the large number of voters, which exceeded 1000 citizens.
The electoral process ended on 18 January 2017. Ten officials were elected who will head the city council’s committees and another 15 will monitor them and supervise the council’s work.
Ten People to Manage Council Committees
Following the end of the elections, in which over 1000 voters participated, 25 of the 60 candidates were elected to manage the local council that was to be established. These 25 members will elect 10 people from among them to manage the council’s main committees. The remaining 15 elected members will meet on a monthly basis to discuss the council’s work and set a monthly plan for its work.
Enab Baladi spoke to Mohammad Saleem Khidhr, the head of the election management committee, who said that the work of the executive committees would be carried out in accordance with the rules set by the Local Affairs Ministry of the Interim Government. He confirmed, “The council will not be concerned with political issues. Its role will be focused on services – managing development projects and providing services to the city’s residents.”
According to residents who Enab Baladi spoke to, the formation of the new council is widely supported in light of the difficulties in guaranteeing basic services such as water, electricity, communication and the provision of bread. This is in addition to the lack of security in the area, which pushed the al-Fatah administration and civil society actors (such as al-Beit al-Idlibi, al-Ayan Council and others) to search for a solution.
Newly Elected Officials… What Is The Council’s Role?
Jaish al-Fatah has not officially commented on the election of the new administration, nor have they announced the handover of the “keys” to the city to the new administration, which has become an issue of heated debate in recent days.
Enab Baladi contacted some of the elected representatives, among them Tareef Sayyed Isa, who commented that the new council’s relationship with Jaish al-Fatah is one of coordination and complementarity, while each side maintains its independence in each domain. He said he would “seek to launch constructive projects by reviving the local directorates and institutions.”
However, Ammar Kashkash, who obtained the sixth highest number of votes, is of the view that “Jaish al-Fatah will be in charge of military affairs while the council will be completely in charge of civic issues.” He told Enab Baladi, “The work requires us to have full powers within the city.” Abdul-Qahhar Zakkour, who obtained the second highest number of votes, says that the relationship between the two sides is not clear yet and that work is underway to establish the council’s internal regulations and clarify the council’s vision.
According to the members of the new council, meetings are being held to establish internal regulations and to elect members of the executive committees. Kashkash confirmed, “We will provide all services other than in the military sector. We will introduce a new civic approach through the establishment of an emergency plan and a long-term plan.” He added, “We have to forget the idea of foreign organizations and support and try to secure our own investments.”
Some commentators are of the view that Jaish al-Fatah will try to assert its control over the new council in one way or another and that the new council is just a “formality to help obtain assistance that they would not be able to obtain from organizations if fighters are part of the council.”
The residents of Idlib City are in agreement that this experience puts them at a new crossroads. Either it succeeds, making the council a symbol of this city, which contains the largest number of opposition actors in northern Syria, or “they will pay a high price, just as they have before.”