Structural changes to local council in Syria’s al-Bab: Selection process arouses anger among people
Four years into the establishment of the local councils in the northern countryside of Aleppo, the circumstances that accompanied their birth, both militarily and economically, and the tasks that they performed in managing the region at the service and administrative levels, talks have begun to initiate a new stage, through the appointment of new heads.
Local councils, including B’zaah, al-Bab, Qabasin, and Jarablus, announced the start of assigning new heads to preside over the work of councils, provided that the leaders of the current councils will conduct the work until the formation of new councils.
Local councils have played a key role in providing services to the members of the community over the past years, amid the absence of operating under a single umbrella, which led to an imbalance in their work.
There are central-local councils in the area, to which town councils are affiliated; ten central councils in Azaz, Suran, Marea, Akhtarin, al-Bab, B’zaah, Qabasin, al-Rai, and Jarablus, in addition to the local council in Afrin, which was reportedly under opposition control in 2018.
In light of the talk about the new appointments, several questions arose about the mechanism for selecting the heads of the councils and how to appoint them amidst the absence of people’s participation in formal elections.
Selection mechanism… misty
The method of selecting new council members is still somewhat hazy, as there has been no formal written request for that so far. All that is going on and being “cooked” right now is just talks, according to what Muhammad Abdul Karim al-Jabali secretary-general of al-Bab families group (the group includes dozens of families from the region).
Al-Jabali highlighted to Enab Baladi that Turkish consultants, sent by the Turkish governor of Gaziantep Province, asked the members of professional unions, and tribes to nominate three candidates for each union and tribe, adding any other component that the consultants consider as a group can submit candidates as well.
For his part, Khaled Afoura, a member of al-Bab revolutionary council, told Enab Baladi that the list of all suggested candidates, which amount to 100, will be sent to Turkey, where the candidates will be studied and compared to each other on grounds we do not know. Then 25 of them will be chosen to represent the local council in the city.
Osama Naous, the spokesperson of al-Bab families group, confirmed that not all actors in the city have been consulted so far, yet, the consultations may have taken place individually, which is something unacceptable by the group.
The process of choosing the candidates for heads and members of local councils aroused the ire of many people, because “the selection process does not represent the demands of the revolutionary people and it is anti-democratic when the right to accept or reject the candidate is limited to what the others (other than the Syrian people) want,” according to al-Jabali.
Al-Jabali explained that according to the selection mechanism, membership and chairmanship of the councils are considered an asset, not a responsibility for the city’s administration; thus, there may be a role for mediation, favoritism, power centers searching for their interests. In fact, by following this selection mechanism, community components are treated in isolation, so that each component expresses its opinion on a limited number of candidates, instead of all components of society having a say in all the candidates.
As secretary-general of the families group of al-Bab, al-Jabali demanded under Article No. 17 for the application of the internal system of the council, calling for an enlarged meeting with the Turkish side, all actors, and representatives of unions in the city to nominate the entire members of the local council after having agreed on the conditions that must be met in the candidate (affiliation with the Syrian revolution, efficiency, residence, and integrity) according to al-Jabali.
Naous expressed reservations about the method of choosing the head of the council, requesting compliance with the internal rules of procedures of the local councils, which stipulate that representatives of professional unions and actors in the city can only nominate council members, not the head of the council. He is worried that the same process adopted in the previous year for electing the head of the council, by consulting only some actors and representatives of unions, without consulting all community components, might be followed again this year.
Activists in the city of al-Bab wrote a petition letter demanding the right to vote in the election of the members and heads of the local councils. The petition was published on social media sites to reach out to the largest number of petitioners. The number of respondents reached 500. However, it is worth mentioning that the petition must be circulated among people to gather signatures of people in person, the activist, Ammar al-Khalaf from al-Bab city, told Enab Baladi.
Al-Khalaf pointed out the petition was based on the principles of the people’s revolution against the Syrian regime, stressing that appointing the councilors without making the people an essential part of the election process means the denial of people’s right of opinion, expressions, and freedom of choice, which is considered inconsistent with the principle they fought against al-Assad for, even if the elected councilor has competence, integrity and the values and principle of the Syrian revolution.
Are direct elections to the local councils in al-Bab possible?
The new mechanism for selecting the heads of the local councils coincided with a question as to why direct legal elections are not possibly held.
Attorney Mohammed Fares said to Enab Baladi conducting direct elections is not possible for several reasons: the area, newly emerging from a devastating war, is still in a transitional phase, and holding elections requires security and economic and social stability, and this is what the city does not currently enjoy.
Moreover, the majority of the original inhabitants of al-Bab, especially the qualified, are still in the diaspora, and more than two-thirds of the population of al-Bab are forcibly displaced, and this displacement is unstable, according to lawyer Fares.
He added that a voter in a council election must present a personal Identity Card (ID), which is not owned by all the people, noting that work is underway to deliver ID cards to the rest of the residents in the area.
The secretary-general of “the families group of al-Bab” al-Jabali, considered that the democratic path in conducting direct elections faces difficulties, and there is a controversy between supporters and opponents of this.
As for the activist in the “coordinating body of al-Bab,” Mohammed Aboul Fotouh, he considered that choosing the council head by direct elections holds him responsible for the segment that elected him. Therefore, the head should work hard to serve them. In return, the people will be accountable for their decision and choice, meaning, people should know from the beginning the candidate’s plan and ideas in developing services and elect him on this basis. Aboul Fotouh said that as for whoever is appointed, even if through extensive and constructive consultation, he will be held hostage to the dictates and decisions of others, or under pressure exerted by some authorities, and this does not achieve gains or provide services for the general public.
Activist Muhammad Abu Omar, who is one of the displaced people of Homs and lives in al-Bab, believes that the best way is to hold a referendum and choose the members of the local council accordingly, noting that the members of the local council should be from all segments of society and close to them as well, not only from the people of al-Bab in order to improve and offer services in the city for all classes including both the displaced people and stable residents.
“The Syrian National Army (SNA)” controlled the city of al-Bab, with direct Turkish support, from the grip of the so-called Islamic State, on 24 February 2017, and civil and service administrations in the region are supported by the Turkish state of Gaziantep.
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