On Tuesday, July 25 the city of Saqba in East Ghouta witnessed the election of local council members in the first “democratic election.” Citizens cast their votes by way of eight voting booths located throughout the city.
Voters selected the engineer Yasser Obeed as president of the council by 799 votes, beating out his opponent Alaa Khamis by 382 votes. In addition, seven other candidates won election to the council’s offices, though a decision on the office of education was postponed until further notice.
“Of course I voted…” began the media activist Abu Mahmoud al-Hark in a conversation with “The Syrian Voice.” Al-Hark mentioned that “the rate of voter participation exceeded expectations, and the elections were the talk of the town throughout the week.”
“Who will be elected? And to whom should I give my vote?” were the prevailing questions among citizens in the days prior to the election. This is an indication of the importance the local people attributed to this election, according to comments by Al-Hark to “The Syrian Voice”.
The Saqba local council elections are a distinguished milestone, as past elections were conducted by means of a general electoral body. According to a statement to “The Syrian Voice,” engineer Akram Toma, representative to the president of the “temporary” Syrian government, said that the current elections offered citizens a chance to directly elect their representatives.
Mr. Toma continued, saying that “this method does not deprive anyone who meets the legal requirements to vote from doing so, and we aim to make it common practice among the cities and towns of East Ghouta.”
“The Syrian Voice” met with the elected president of the local council Mr. Yasser Obeed, who also praised the way the electoral process was conducted and the standards by which the candidates were selected.
Mr. Obeed said to “The Syrian Voice” that “the elections are a new step contrary to their predecessors. This work was done for the benefit of experience and in the public interest.”
Mr. Obeed continued, saying that “the candidates were chosen according to the duty requirements of each office in terms of university degree, age, and experience. Accordingly, the committee assigned to the elections filtered the names of the candidates that did not fulfill the conditions for candidacy.” At the same time, Mr. Obeed emphasized that “nomination was open to all citizens of the city within the specified conditions.”
Mr. Obeed pointed out that the election officials were keen to ensure the necessary environment for voters, such as secret rooms and the prevention of outside influences that might change voters’ opinions. In addition, the stages of the elections were subject to oversight from the ballot, to the counting of votes, and to the final statistical process.
Mr. Obeed hoped that the “democratic” experience of Saqba will prevail in all the cities and towns surrounding Damascus and in Syria at large, especially in the selection of local councils, establishments, and organizations. The success of this experience was clear from the “election coverage” and the people of Saqba’s interaction with the election via social media, despite some criticism regarding specific aspects.
In a publication on his personal page, Aous Moubarak wrote: “Today the first general elections for the local council of Saqba happened, with unexpected participation… Today I saw a gasoline seller cry (happily) because he voted.”
Moubarak published a video of senior sheikh who participated in the elections saying “this is the first election I have participated in since the election of Shukri Al-Quwatli.” Shukri Al-Quwatli was the first Syrian president, who led the nation for two terms from 1943-1949 and from 1955-1958.
Among the shortcomings of the Saqba elections was the exemption of the council’s medical, educational, and legal offices from the general elections and the restriction of their selection to specialists.
In reaction, a Saqba resident remarked to “The Syrian Voice” that “voters understand the exemption of the medical office, but I wondered why we don’t elect the president of the legal office and [instead] leave the choice to the elders?”
This resident mentioned that the elections are the first of this kind in the areas around Damascus, although they were preceded by a similar event in the Idlib countryside. On 18 July, the people of the city of Saraqib elected the members of their local council in an unprecedented general election.