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Elections in Northeast Syria: A Step Towards Stabilization Amid Regional Turmoil

The Democratic Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (DAANES) is preparing to hold municipal elections in all regions of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)-held northeast Syria on June 11th. The elections will be the first since 2017, following the geographical expansion of the DAANES after the territorial defeat of ISIS and a two-year process of intensive discussion and debates that led to the ratification of a new Social Contract early this year.

The recently-formed High Electoral Commission stated that 5,336 candidates are running in elections for co-mayorships and councils in over 134 municipalities. The Social Contract stipulates a co-mayorship system, in which power is shared by one man and one woman, in each municipality.

The Commission told the Kurdish Peace Institute that more than two and a half million voters distributed among 7 provinces — Al-Jazeera, Deir Ez-Zour, Raqqa, Al-Furat (including Kobani), Manbij, Afrin and Al-Shahba, and Tabqa — are entitled to vote in these elections. The Commission distributed electoral cards to the population. The Commission allocated 1,792 electoral centers to receive voters, who will cast their votes in 2,113 electoral boxes.

Local elections have been on the table for a long time. They emerged as a key recommendation from the Sons of the Jazeera and Euphrates conference held in the Hasakah region in November 2020, which hosted over 300 personalities representing the diverse spectrum of local communities’ political, social and tribal components. The election process was delayed until the new social contract was ratified. It was also disrupted by continuous security threats facing the region, especially from Turkey, ISIS, and Iran-backed militias, as well as uncertainty over US’s presence in the region.

The last local elections in northeast Syria were held in late 2016. Since then,  the administration’s territory stretched to include Arab-majority regions  liberated from ISIS with U.S.-led Coalition support, including Raqqa and Deir Ez-Zour regions. Once held, the elections would be the first ever in these regions since the start of the Syrian conflict. Despite many challenges, the relative security atmosphere and local demands for administrative reforms and better governance paved the way for the long-awaited electoral process.

The DAANES intended to prepare well for the process, despite the many challenges it has faced: from security dynamics to capacity to qualified human resources. The High Electoral Commission has called for all parties willing to participate to register and compete. It also called for internal civil society organizations and external entities to observe the process.

Berivan Omar, a candidate for mayor of Qamishlo, said in her interview with the Kurdish Peace Institute that she is participating in these elections out of her desire to provide the best services to the city’s residents. She indicated that she will focus on environmental projects if she is elected.

Omar is running on the “Peoples and Women for Freedom” list, the largest electoral alliance. This list includes 22 political entities, including the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and all-women’s Kongra Star. Another alliance is “Together to Provide Better Services,” which includes five other parties, among them the Kurdistan Green Party. A few other parties and independent figures are running independently.

Bilind Hassan, a resident of Al-Hasakah, says that he will participate in the elections. He hopes that the city’s water problem will be solved. Hasakah has been suffering from thirst since 2019, after Turkey occupied the city of Sere Kaniye (Ras al-Ayn) and cut off the region’s supply of drinking water from the Alouk Water Station. In early 2024, Turkish drone strikes cut off the power supply to the station completely. Residents have been getting water through water trucking, only partially solving the issue. Currently, drinking water is the biggest hope of city residents as scorching weather conditions approach.

On the other hand, Khalil Muhammad, a resident of Qamishlo city, remains undecided as to who he will vote for. What is vital for him is a candidate who provides better services to the public, regardless of their affiliation.

The elections are bringing external attention to the region as well. Turkey, which opposes the local administration, has spared no opportunity to express its dissatisfaction with steps that could legitimately consolidate the status quo in North and East Syria. The head of the far-right Nationalist Action Party, Devlet Bahceli, a political ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said, “these elections are an attempt to divide Syria under the guise of democracy.”

Bahceli said that Turkey should coordinate with the Syrian government to launch a military operation to destroy the SDF and DAANES. He criticized the United States’ support for the SDF and considered it a serious threat to Turkey’s security, calling on Washington to immediately withdraw its forces from Syria and Iraq, as it did in Afghanistan. The intensity of Turkish threats and rejection of the local elections in northeast Syria has escalated. Local residents, who want peace after over 10 years of war, now fear a new series of attacks on their region.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel answered a question regarding the matter saying: “So you’ve heard us say this before that any elections that occur in Syria should be free, fair, transparent, and inclusive, as is called for in UN Security Council Resolution 2254, and we don’t think that the conditions for such elections are in place in northeast Syria in present time. And we’ve conveyed this to a range of actors in northeast Syria.”

Though challenges to the election process exist, such elections align perfectly with the objectives of U.S. stabilization efforts and attempts to grant locals better inclusiveness and representation within administration bodies. This process also reflects long-standing local demands and eagerness to choose who is in charge in their community.

While the Syrian conflict remains active and the prospect of a genuine nationwide political process is absent, de facto authorities have every right to take the steps they see as necessary to defuse tension, de-escalate, and listen to the demands and grievances of their constituents and local population for better service provision and a greater voice in decision-making and governance.

About the Author

Hoshang Hasan


Hoshang Hasan is a Kurdish Syrian journalist based in Rojava, northern Syria. He covered the fight against ISIS as a war correspondent for a local Kurdish channel, and his work has appeared in many Kurdish and Arabic-language news outlets. In…

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