After ‘marginalizing’ the east, Daraa’s new electoral system aims for equity

Last week the opposition government in FSA-controlled areas of Daraa held the first round of elections for the province’s new representative council, electing six members to represent the al-Qalaa district in the eastern Daraa countryside stretching from the Jordanian border to the edge of Suwayda province. The intent is to eventually hold elections in all six of Daraa’s districts to form a provincial council.

Daraa has been relatively quiet since the end of the summer when the FSA affiliates announced the end of the Southern Storm campaign intended to take the province. Ultimately, the offensive achieved no major advances; the regime controls the northern half of Daraa city and a swath of territory around the highway linking it to Damascus, while rebels control the rest of the province.

The elections were run according to a new population-based ballot system that grants every 10,000 citizens one representative. The 24 local representatives elected from the eastern Daraa countryside met and appointed six of them to represent the interests of the district at the provincial level.

Election supervisor Abu Tamer al-Aboud, along with Abu Badr al-Aboud and journalist Emad a-Rifai explain to Syria Direct’s Yaman Yosif why the elections represent a new beginning for Syria’s southern province.

Q: How were the elections carried out, and in what sense are they the first of their kind?

Emad a-Rifai, reporter: In order to arrive at these six representatives, each local council nominated one candidate per 10,000 people, resulting in 24 candidates from the entire district. These 24 candidates then gathered in Naima last Tuesday and selected six representatives for the district.

What is new about this round of elections is that all of the local councils participated and nominated candidates. This means that there is a unified effort to represent the district; every candidate represents the district as a whole and not only the town or municipality to which he belongs.

Q: How did the public react to the elections?

Emad a-Rifai, reporter: People were very satisfied with the elections, especially because they produced well-known representatives, most of whom possess university degrees.

Q: What was the problem with the former system?

Abu Tamer, election supervisor: There were several issues with the previous electoral system that nearly ruined the process completely. They were held in Daraa’s west, and the system marginalized the eastern portion of the province. We are looking forward to the future and hoping to avoid these mistakes.

Q: Were there any complaints regarding the election process?

Abu Badr al-Aboud, elected council member: There have been some grumblings among supporters of candidates who lost in the final elections. Of course this happens in all elections. The first thing the losers say is that the elections were not fair.

Q: What are the responsibilities of the new members of the Provincial Council? 

Emad a-Rifai, reporter: The council members’ work will include relief operations, liaising between the local councils and the Provincial Council, communicating people’s complaints to the council and ensuring that their needs are met. Additionally they will supervise the distribution of rations, ensure that the bakeries are running and that flour is provided, organize the school system and oversee repairs of public facilities damaged by bombing and fighting.

Q: Where does the council get its funding?

Emad a-Rifai, reporter: The funding comes from the interim government affiliated with the Syrian National Council. Funding is first provided to the Provincial Council and is then distributed to the local councils.

Q: What are the most prominent challenges facing the new council?

Abu Tamer, election supervisor: There are a number of issues. First, they must ensure the continued moral and financial support for the council. Second, they need to establish council offices in each district. Finally, they need to establish an office in the name of the martyrs, prisoners and wounded—an office responsible for the families of those who made the creation of this council a reality. 

Yaman Yosif

Yaman is from Daraa. He studied English Literature until 2010 and taught English in the war college in Homs unitel the revolution began in Syria. He came to Jordan in 2012 and worked in translation at the Philadelphia Center in Amman. He escorted foreign journalists to Syria refugee camps inside Jordan and served as an interpreter.

James Bowker

James Bowker graduated from Tufts University in 2013 with a double major in Arabic Language & Middle Eastern Studies. He has previously worked with the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) study-abroad program and as a remote translator for the Article 25 Right to Health campaign.