Enab Baladi’s Investigation Team
The talk about the local administration elections among the Syrian regime comes as a democratic step. It is the first step of its kind that was initiated after the adoption of the Local Administration Law No. 107 in 2011, allowing the largest segment of independents to run and participate in the management of the local councils of their areas.
However, the reality is different from that. Candidacy is available to all, while the election and selection of candidates is more like a well-studied and determined appointment by the “high political leadership,” dominated by the Socialist Ba’ath Party, the leader of the state and the society. This has again instilled the Ba’ath Party’s idea in the general scene after seven years of war.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad issued a decree to hold the local councils elections on September 16. According to the Syrian newspaper al-Watan, the regime agreed to accept the applications of about 35 thousand candidates to compete on 18 seats in the elections.
|The candidacies for the selection of the personalities start before a period of time of the fixation of the Election Day. Each governorate will issue laws and form an electoral committee throughout Syria for the sub-councils (cities, towns and municipalities). The governorate will also issue the number of seats and electoral instructions.
The candidacy is open, and two lists are issued. The first was before the “National Progressive Front List,” which includes Ba’ath Party members. Its name has now changed to “National Unity List” and is issued by the Regional leadership of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party.
The other list includes independent personalities, with only 30 percent of the candidates’ lists.
Contradiction… The dominance of the Ba’ath Party
Article 20 of the Local Administration Law promulgated by Legislative Decree No. 107 of 2011, under which the current election is held, stipulates that the local council shall be elected by secret ballot in the first session held by its chairman, by the absolute majority of those present. If not achieved, the election shall be carried out again at the same meeting. The proportional majority would be enough and the meeting shall be immediately suspended right after the election of the President of the Council and then resumed under his chairmanship to elect the permanent bureau composed of the Vice-President, the Secretary and two observers.
Article 21 stipulates that the Council shall elect a Vice-President by the absolute majority of those present. If not achieved, the election is carried out again. The proportional majority would be enough, and the Secretary and two observers shall be elected by a proportional majority. When the number of votes is equal, the bailout is then adopted and they shall be annually re-elected according to the case at the first session of the Council each year.
The article also provided that the council elects the members of the Executive Office in accordance with the provisions of Article 29 of this law.
The aforementioned articles, however, are contradicted by the items of Resolution 108 of 2018, which is issued by the Regional Assistant Secretary-General of the Ba’ath Party, Hilal Hilal. The resolution included seven items that laid the foundations for the approval of the “National Unity List” for the election of the councils and criteria to be met by the candidates.
Item (A) of Resolution 108 provides for the selection of party representatives to the local administration councils and their executive offices. It consists of two parts. The first stipulates that “The High Leadership Committee shall determine the number of candidates of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party for the elections of all the local councils and their executive offices, based on suggestions from the leaderships of the party branches.”
The second part states that “the High Leadership Committee shall call the party representatives in the executive offices of the governorates, the executive offices of the cities of the provincial centers and the heads of city councils, in the presence of the Minister of Local Administration, the secretary of the branches and the governor, based on suggestions from the leaderships of the party branches.”
Item (B) identified the selection of party lists for the councils of cities, towns and municipalities and their executive offices.
It is divided into four items that identified the mechanism of the nomination of the lists through meetings between the leaders of the people, party teams and their securities. The main emphasized point is the proposal to double the number of the electoral district in the governorate council to the party leadership, which “exclusively” calls the party lists of the provincial councils among the candidates. This means that the names of the personalities exclusively belong to the Ba’ath Party.
Item (C) of the resolution, issued by the Regional leadership, specified the conditions that must be met in the candidates. It stipulates that the candidate should be accepted by the public and the crowd, in addition to honesty, integrity, sincerity, leadership personality, and the capability of innovation and development. It also refers to the “national belonging,” which means the candidate’s position from the Syrian war.
The items of Resolution 108 of the Ba’ath Party provide a complete picture of the domination of the Syrian regime over local and provincial councils, in contrast to the “democracy” environment it has been promoting years after the Syrian war.
The leadership of the Ba’ath Party announced its part and allies in the lists of candidates for local administration elections, provided that it would be limited to 70 percent of the seats, and will leave 30 percent of the seats to the independent members.
A member of the Regional leadership, Shaaban Azzouz, pointed out to “Your Role” campaign, which was launched by the Nation Building Movement and Snack Syrian website on 30 August, to the need to change the mindset that says that the National Progressive Front lists will “inevitably succeed.”
How are elections carried out?
To date, the talk about elections is limited to social media websites. Large segments of the Syrian people do not even know the nature and definition of elections and the way they will be carried out. Their views on this issue have been limited to the elections of the People’s Assembly, which have been promoted and receiving campaigns long before the elections day.
Enab Baladi has conducted an opinion poll on its website. It asked the question “Have you ever participated in the local administration elections in Syria?” 250 people have participated in the opinion poll. 83 percent of the respondents answered by “no” and 17 percent answered “yes.” This indicates that the electoral process relies on pre-prepared lists away from the “democratic electoral right.”
Engineer Mouhammed Modhar Sharbaji, an official of Governance and Building Abilities at the Local Administration Councils Unit (LACU) of the Syrian opposition, told Enab Baladi that the electoral process of the subcommittees is “formal,” in a way that the photos and names of the National Progressive Front would be prepared in advance during the bailout process in the boxes. He mentioned an example that 15 out of the 20 candidates for the city are from the National Progressive Front list and only five of the candidates are independent members. He pointed out that the members of the National Progressive Front are always appointed in advance, and the election is carried out for the remaining independent members.
He added that there is no public turnout for the local council elections, because the result is already known to be in favor of the list of the National Progressive Front list, dominated by the Ba’ath Party by more than 50 percent.
Three days after the election process, the results of the subcommittees are issued. They are followed by the Ministry of Local Administration’s decision to identify the names of the winning members of the Council. The Ba’ath Party would then start looking into the names of members of the Executive Office following the aforementioned mechanism.
The Local Administration law stipulates that each local council shall have an executive office. The number of candidates for the council shall be linked to the involved number of the population, and shall fall within its area of service.
Sharbaji explained that the head of the council is selected from the “political leadership,” and is not elected. He is rather appointed under the recommendations and directives. He pointed out that the members of the Executive Office and the head of the council are appointed under the decision of the political leadership, 80 percent of them being Ba’ath Party members.
According to Sharbaji, “the electoral process should be accomplished and there should be no objection to the decision of the Regional leadership.”
Provincial council elections are similar to local council elections. Provincial councils in big cities include up to 100 persons. However, the selection of the executive office is more challenging, as each elected member must abide to specific standards.
Sharbaji explained that the executive office includes ten members, and the governor is appointed directly by the head of the Syrian regime, whether according to the old or new election law.
The president of the provincial council in the current law is elected, but has no significant role as far as the governing laws are concerned. Sharbaji pointed out that the head of the provincial council performs a formal role and the sole employable decisions are the ones taken by the governor himself.
The members of the executive office work full-time and they are provided with well-equipped offices and vehicles. The process of selecting them by the political leadership is highly precise and their status is examined by the authorities. The successful candidates are put in charge of different sectors, namely the industry, education, agriculture, and services.
Sharbaji added that the executive office elections are conducted at a provincial level, and 99 percent of the seats are taken by the National Progressive Front candidate list, dominating 80 percent of the electoral process.
History of local administration in Syria
The implementation of the local administrative law in Syria dates back to the period of the Ottoman rule. Back then, the General State Administration Act divided the state into Sanjaks, and Sanjacks into Aqdya, and Aqdya into Nawaḥi and Nawahi into villages.
Under the French mandate, the High Commissioner issued Resolution No. 5 of 1936, based on Article 109 of the Syrian Constitution, which divided Syria into governorates and granted each governorate the power to express opinions vis-à-vis the population’s administrative, urban, cultural, and social needs. However, the law was never put into action because of the French desire to tighten its control all over Syria.
After independence, the Municipalities Act No. 72 of 1956, the Neighborhood Councils Law No. 215 of 1956, and the Administrative Organization Act No. 496 of 1957 were promulgated.
The first local administrative law, Law No. 15, was issued after the Baath party seized power in 1971. The last regulation put forth by the Syrian regime was the local administrative Law No. 107, which repealed all previous laws under article 161.
The Constitution or the law…
What is the legislative system in charge of the administrative units?
The administrative units and local councils are not only organized according to the local administrative law, but also in accordance with the Syrian Constitution that mentioned the local councils in many articles. The rule of constitution is imposed over the law when a certain case is mentioned by both legal references. The Constitution comes as the highest legal hierarchy, followed by the law, then the executive regulations.
The Syrian Constitution, passed in 2012, provided for the organization of local councils in articles 12, 130 and 131, stating the organization procedure of local administrative units based on the application of the principle of decentralization of powers and responsibilities.
With a careful reading of this legal text, we conclude that the new Constitution of 2012 provided a constitutional guarantee to the local administration system.
According to the previous law, the administrative units are divided into bodies with legal personality, which are the governorate, the city, the town, and the municipality, and other units without a legal personality, namely the region, the Nahiyah (the area), and the neighborhood.
Whereas the divisions of the administrative unit according to Decree 107 of the Local Administrative Law of 2011 are as follows: governorate, city, town, and municipality, all of which have legal personality.
Voters cast their votes at each session to elect the members of the councils representing these units, namely, the provincial council, city council, and municipal council.
Syrian Local Administrative Law between text and reality
The new law, issued by Decree No. 107 of 2011, stipulates the decentralization of powers and responsibilities and disposes it in the hands of the people, in accordance with the principles of democracy, which consider the people as the source of all authority. The rule of the people is presented through a clear and unambiguous expansion and identification of the powers and jurisdictions of the administrative units’ councils. The organizations of the different ranges of powers enable these councils to perform their functions and tasks to develop the administrative unit economically, socially, culturally, and urbanely.
However, decentralization in Syria does not lead to genuine decentralization at the administration level. This means that some powers are not granted to the elected local institutions to exercise specific expertise independently; based on their own discretionary authority and away from the direct intervention of the central authority through means of guidance, modification, cancellation, and finding solutions.
Ghazwan Kurunful, head of the Free Syrian Lawyers told Enab Baladi that “seven years after the promulgation of Decree 107 of 2011 amending the local administrative law, elections are held to convey a message to the international community and all the countries, involved in the Syrian crisis, that the existence of the so called terrorists did actually prevent all this from being realized earlier”.
All of this is based on a fact that no one can deny. A decentralized system takes into account that local residents and local officials are the most knowledgeable and experienced ones who can handle their own affairs and make the right decisions.
With regard to the new law and the powers it grants to the councils, the amendments in the decree may slightly expand the margin available to the local councils of cities and towns in managing some of their local affairs and collecting some fees that will increase their incomes. However, it all depends on the center of power, according to Kurunful: “In a country where political action is disrupted and there is no margin for civil action, there is no point in local councils in which candidates compete to satisfy the security services as a decisive factor in reaching office. Therefore, the votes of citizens become pointless.”
This is clearly shown in Article 4 of the decree, which gives the Supreme Council for Local Administration, headed by the Prime Minister, and the Minister of Local Administration and Environment as a successor. It is within his competence to draw up a national decentralized plan according to a specific timetable and supervise its implementation, in addition to supporting this plan and coordinating with all specialized authorities in order to realize it. The prime minister or his/her successor can also take the necessary decisions to clarify the mechanisms of the work of the local units, and approve the executive regulations as well as the annual amendments to the regulations of fees, resources and compensation.
This means that the Supreme Council for Local Administration, which represents the central authority, is responsible for all the decisions of the local councils (representative of the decentralized authority) by requiring from all councils to revert back with every detail that would fall under its jurisdiction. The new law, despite the legislator’s claim that it was compatible with the needs of democracy and decentralization, did not grant the right to local councils to initiate legal disputes with the Supreme Council, before the administrative court, as it is the case for an ordinary citizen.
The right to defiance of the Supreme Council (the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, the Minister and Governors) is an important requirement for jurists and activists who consider it essential in a decentralized administration. Such mechanism can be put forth by creating a special chamber of the State Council, which is the competent authority to hear cases against State departments and, to handle the local councils’ legal suits against ministries or governors.
Idlib administrative department…
Councils for the interim government and a formal council for the regime
Along with the system of local administration deployed in areas controlled by the regime, another management system was formed during the years of the revolution in the regions dominated by the opposition factions.
With the progress of the Syrian regime since the beginning of this year, by taking over several areas that were in the hands of the opposition, the Syrian Interim Government lost the areas in which it was active, especially Daraa, the neighborhoods of South Damascus, Eastern Ghouta, and the western countryside of Homs.
Idlib, the internal displacement destination, has provided a room for several local councils that have left their main areas of activity due to forced displacement campaigns. Some of these councils have maintained their role and effectiveness, and some others have been re-established in areas of displacement as service commissions.
At the same time, the Syrian regime insists on conducting local administration elections for areas beyond its control. The head of the Supreme Judicial Committee for Elections, Suleiman al-Qaed, said last July that “the local administration elections in the governorates of Raqqa and Idlib will take place in Hama, having judges from Idlib and Raqqa.
Solution or restructuring
A study entitled “Local Displaced Councils: Restructured in New Environments,” published by the Omran Center for Strategic Studies in November 2017, indicated that most of the local councils that were relocated to the north of Syria were reluctant to reconstitute their local councils and rather chose to go for non-representative alternative service directorates, organizations, and committees.
The study pointed out that “the displaced local councils that reconstituted themselves in the new areas or maintained their activity without re-election constitute 20 percent of the councils which have been forcibly displaced.”
Rif Dimashq Provincial Council is one of the displaced councils, which has decided to reconstitute itself as displaced people committees instead of local councils, according to the head of Rif Dimashq Provincial Council affiliated to the Syrian Interim Government, Abdul Rahman Saqr, during an interview with Enab Baladi.
Saqr added that some of the members of the former local councils in eastern Ghouta preferred to stay in their cities and towns. However, the others who left did not want to establish a local council and chose to focus on the affairs of the displaced people, for the loss of the land means focusing effort only on the people.
Idlib administrative divisions
The “Syrian Interim Government” divided Syrian territory into administrative units starting from the governorate, which is identified as the largest administrative unit, then to the region, city, town, municipality, and area.
Idlib is the only governorate that is subjected to the full administrative authority of the Ministry of Local Administration in the Interim Government, which has divided the governorate into 157 administrative units spread over 15 cities, 74 towns, 95 municipalities, and 6 districts with 26 areas.
The number of local councils, in the governorate of Idlib has amounted to 156 according to a study entitled “Analytical Reading of the Survey about the Reality and Challenges of Financial Management of Local Councils” and published by Omran Center for Strategic Studies in September 2017.
According to the study, Idlib local councils mainly constitute 9 percent of City Council, 30 percent of town Council, 61 percent of Municipal Council. 81 of these Local Councils are located in the areas held by Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham and constitute 39 percent of Town Council and 47 percent of Municipal Council, in addition to 43 village councils.
Idlib’s regime elections in Hama
The local administration elections for Idlib governorate are held in the Syrian city of Hama, in conjunction with the elections of the administrative units’ councils in the governorates held by the Syrian regime.
The Syrian regime announced that the number of applications for membership of the administrative units’ councils in the governorate of Idlib amounted to 1500 applicants competing for 1909 seats.
The head of the Supreme Judicial Committee for Elections, Suleiman al-Qaed, called on the ones wishing to vote in another governorate to invoke a document signed by the chief of the village confirming that they were residents of this governorate for more than two years.
The elections of Idlib Governorate Council are expected to be formal, as a result of the low number of anticipated candidates, who will come to Hama from other Syrian regions in order to vote in addition to the fact that the seats will most likely be granted to specific people according to political and security considerations.
After the suspension of negotiations…
Self-management fights the elections of the regime by arresting candidates
The negotiations between the regime and the Syrian Democratic Council during the past two months dealt with the issue of administrative and political decentralization. The Syrian regime sought to promote for self-management during the ongoing local administration elections, for it is a manifestation of the decentralization that the Council has been calling for.
Even though the Syrian regime kept secret the details of the discussions held during the meetings, which brought together representatives of the Syrian Democratic Council and officials of the regime in Damascus, Kurdish and media officials pointed out that the issue of local administration has been at the top of those discussions.
From self-management to limited administrative decentralization
“The agreement concluded with Damascus provided for the formation of joint committees belonging to both parties and whose task is to discuss issues related to governance and administration in different Syrian regions, especially ours,” said Ilham Ahmed, the executive head of the Syrian Democratic Council, political wing of the Syrian Democratic Forces, during an interview with Russia Today TV channel (RT).
“We have not noticed any objection from the government towards maintaining self-management in the Kurdish areas around the country,” she said.
The head of Future Syria Party, Ibrahim al-Qaftan, who was part of a delegation which headed to Damascus, stated during an interview with “Rudaw Net” at the end of July that the regime and the Syrian Democratic Council discussed the formation of committees in order to study ‘Law 107’ for the local administration, self-management, “and then there will be outputs”.
The negotiations between the regime and the Syrian Democratic Council have been suspended because the United States rescinded the decision to “fully withdraw” from Syria. As a result, they reiterated their calls for “political and administrative decentralization,” which would set forth the existing concept of “self-management” and contradict the content of Law 107.
Al-Hasakah candidates are under arrest
While the negotiations between the regime and the Syrian Democratic Council did not result into any agreement, the Syrian regime exploited its held areas mainly, al-Hasakah and Qamishli, in order to set up electoral centers within the framework of the local administration elections, which are meant to be held on 16 September.
In al-Hasakah governorate, 3,100 people have applied to run for election, prompting political analysts to draw a link between the large number of applicants and “understandings” arranged between the regime and the Syrian Democratic Council.
On the other hand, after the suspension of negotiations with the regime the self-management arrested a number of candidates of the administrative units, in an attempt to stabilize the Kurdish position seeking to win the regime’s recognition of political decentralization.
Smart News Agency highlighted last week that the self-management arrested 200 people who nominated themselves for the elections conducted by the regime. The agency quoted the head of the self-management, “Internal Affairs,” Kanaan Barakat, as saying that “it is the only authority that manages the region and imposed itself in all areas,” and that “every person running for election held by the regime will be prosecuted, and required to provide a written-pledge not to run again in order to be released.”
The study of the details and procedures of the Local Administration Law No. 107 and the upcoming elections, foreshadows that the Syrian regime wants to direct these elections abroad, so as to be a negotiating paper after the international community’s calls for decentralization that would meet the aspirations of sectarian components and areas that hold a clear political position against the Syrian regime.
Internally, the elections and the related procedures lead to the consecration of Damascus’ centrality, controlling all the Syrian territories and its political and economic matters again. However, could the regime support its allies in order to subjugate regions beyond its control?