Andżara Local Elections: Integral Process with Strong Participation of Women
In a unique step, the town of Andżara is about to hold a developed electoral experience, in a manner never witnessed by the Syrian territories controlled by the opposition, for this time real electoral prerequisites are met, in contrast to the “arbitrary” former attempts.
The elections are undergoing a series of preparations to ensure a prefect implementation, through the training courses which involved the area’s local council, covering the regulation of the mechanisms of supervision of the election process, the voters’ participation and raising their awareness of the importance of this participation; women as well have a space, as voters and candidates.
Trained and Funded Candidates
Prior to announcing the electoral campaigns and setting a deadline, several training programs, addressing various dimensions, were conducted.
Muzhar Sharbaji, the official training the local councils on the electoral process told Enab Baladi that the candidates were trained on the mechanisms of nomination, the elections and the procedures of the whole electoral process.
For the first time, the elections would be held duly, unlike the familiar methods followed before, for many preparations were done; the candidates are trained and a census of the population and those who have the right to vote has been conducted, according to Sharbaji.
The Andżara town’s experience stands for a real and integral process, with all its details, starting with the candidates’ electoral programs and advertisement, to the debates between them and the initiation an environment suitable for holding the elections, representing the first complete democratic experience in the area, he said.
He added that it is planned for the candidates to have small amounts of money to fund their electoral campaigns. The society organizations and independent delegates are also provided the chance to observe the electoral process.
To guarantee that the elections be implemented the way they are planned, a tripartite memorandum of understanding was signed by the Local Councils Unit of the “Syrian Interim Government”, the “Free Aleppo Provincial Council” and the Local Development and Small Projects Development Organization (LDSPS).
Sharbaji pointed out that the training process passed through three stages, starting with the training of the local council on the management of the elections, followed with training the candidates on preparing their electoral programs, saying that the winner candidate would receive operating funds, which will encourage the other local councils to undertake the process, regardless of all considerations.
The “Local Development” Office
The “Local Development and Small Projects Support” Office (LDSPS) was founded and launched in Eastern Ghouta; its headquarters was in the city of Duma.
The Office’s vision, according to Walid al-Abyan, its director, based in the city of Atarib, rural Aleppo, focuses on supporting the structures of the sustainable local rule, empowering electoral processes and advancing elections in the liberated areas.
The office’s first experience was in Eastern Ghouta, where several elections were held in many areas, including Arbin, Saqba and Duma. The experience was a success, after which an office in rural Aleppo was found in 2017.
Al-Abyan said that the Office’s key goal is helping people get their right into choosing their representatives and cancelling the former mechanisms of founding local councils, through public committees and shura (consultative) councils, the methods of which depended on family relations and influence.
Three Entities Share Duties
The Director of Training and Programs at the “Local Development and Small Projects Support Office” Abdullah al-Hassan said that the idea started a few months ago, during which a road map was set up as to arrive at the elections, with the participation of the Local Councils Unit of the “Interim Government” and the “Free Aleppo Provincial Council.”
The map included the establishment of an office for the training of local councils on elections, their rules, mechanisms and management, on the condition that the map’s tasks be divided between the three entities, which signed the memorandum of understanding, in relation to supervision and the provision of application forms. The major task, assigned to the “Free Aleppo Provincial Council,” is running the elections and ensuring that they are conducted in a legal manner.
Al-Hassan added that the Office of Local Development has transported the Eastern Ghouta’s elections experience to Northern Syria to be developed and adopted.
The Office’s task, according to al-Hassan, is to help the road map reach the stage of implementation and fund the candidates’ expenses and cover the costs of the electoral process in Andżara.
35 Candidates Await November 24th
The “Free Aleppo Provincial Council” has announced the date for holding the general elections of the local council, on Saturday, November 24th. Enab Baladi managed to get a version of resolution no. 41, in which the council called on the civil society organizations, registered under it and wishing to supervise the elections, to address the “Aleppo Provincial Department” to get the supervisor’s card.
The al-Bab City Council invited the candidates to advertise for their electoral campaigns starting from Saturday, November 17th, and called the candidates to receive the candidate card or send delegates, if they wish, according to the council’s resolution.
Ramadan Ramadan, the Director of the “Aleppo Governorate’s Local Councils Directorate” told Enab Baladi that the elections at the council are “public, direct and of high standards,” pointing out that the “Councils Directorate” and the “Provincial Council” have a plan to generalize the upcoming experience on all their adopted local councils.
According to al-Hassan, there are 35 candidates, including 4 women; and the people who have the right to vote are five thousand persons of the Andżara town and its administratively affiliated areas.
A High-Level Participation of Women
Women, for the first time, get the chance to be present in real elections, whether on the level of candidates or voters, while the “Syrian Women Assembly” is launching electoral campaigns, encouraging the area’s women to participate in voting for the person who they find suitable, according to Fatima al-Bakour, a member of the “Assembly.”
Al-Bakour told Enab Baladi that the “Women Assembly” participates in several activities through supporting the electoral process and urging women to run for the elections or vote, holding seminars explaining the importance of elections, in addition to other field activities, such as the distribution of motivation leaflets calling people to participate in the electoral campaign as to advance it further.
The Director of Training and Programs of the “Local Development and Small Projects Support Office” Abdullah al-Hassan believes that elections without a real participation on the part of women would be weak and insignificant, for the presence of women is crucial at the two levels, being candidates or voters, which empowers and supports women politically and help them find their way, all over again, to the decision making positions.
The “Syrian Women Assembly” in Search for a Leading Role
At a time where women are present within the space of the civil society organizations, they are absent from the sphere of politics and decision-making positions in the opposition held areas.
Despite the spread of civil society organizations, the programs of which suggested ideas in support of and to impower the role of women and their contributions, this role failed to make a marked development, due to the hegemony of a “conservative” mindset in the majority of these areas, in addition to a retreat in the women’s participation in the process of decision making.
In time, a group of women activists decided to activate the pioneer role of women in society and put them face to face with the daily political life of power, represented by the local councils. From this, a new body rose as to enhance the women’s role in this space, which previously restricted them to the women empowerment offices, where they were unable to make real and effective decisions.
The new body is called the “Syrian Women Assembly,” consisting of Syrian women activists, concerned with the public affairs, in western rural Aleppo.
Fatima al-Bakour, a member of the assembly, said that the body’s foundation idea resulted from a vision aiming to empower women at all life’s fields, including the process of decision making, regardless of the followed methods.
In general, the Assembly, according to al-Bakour, seeks to arrive at a free democratic assembly, in a fair manner, as to guarantee enhancing the role of women and raising the level of their cultural knowledge, as well as creating women leaders in society.
The Assembly was founded four months ago, and its first activities is the Andżara elections, through supporting women voters and candidates and helping them play a real role in the experience, for the elections contain four women candidates, running for local council positions.
The al-Bakour believes that western rural parts of Aleppo are a fertile soil for a feminist movement, despite the barriers, which “are possible to overcome.”