Residents of Rastan elected a new president to the local council last week, who is slated to oversee the city’s administrative affairs and fill a municipal services vacuum left since the last local council resigned two months ago.
Neighborhood committees and residents of Rastan, a rebel-held city in the northern Homs countryside, demanded elections on June 20 after two months of squabbling and competition between the city’s civil institutions over the formation of a local council, which resulted in no meaningful progress, Dr. Abu Maher Warda, head of the Revolutionary Activity Office in Rastan, told The Syrian Voice over the weekend.
“Residents’ election of the local council was the most appropriate solution, and will help the council succeed in its work,” said Warda.
Residents organized protests last April demanding that the previous local council resign because it had proven unable to provide the city with proper municipal services. But following the council’s resignation, people lived for two months in a state of chaos characterized by worsening services due to the absence of any effective administrative body.
The Revolutionary Police Station (al-Makhfar al-Thauwri) was entrusted with vetting candidates running for president of the new local council. The police station is responsible for maintaining security in Rastan, and enjoys a high degree of trust among civilians.
“The Revolutionary Activity Office, the Revolutionary Leadership Council, and the Homs Provincial Council were among the organizations that called for the Revolutionary Police Station and Shariah Council in Rastan to oversee elections and monitor their progress,” Mohammed Rejjeb, a member of the Revolutionary Activity Office, told The Syrian Voice over the weekend.
Thirteen mosques outfitted with voting booths served as Rastan’s polling stations.
“Turnout was acceptable, relatively speaking, but a portion of residents didn’t participate in the elections due to personal circumstances,” Shaalan al-Dali, head of the Homs Provincial Council’s executive office, told The Syrian Voice Sunday.
In addition to civilians, soldiers belonging to Free Syrian Army-affiliated brigades participated in Rastan’s local council elections.
Military brigades’ participation does not mean the door is open for soldiers to interfere in Rastan’s civil affairs, but rather was a move intended to secure the best representative capable of realizing positive steps in local administration, Abu Hadu Ubeed, representative of the elections operations room,which sorted and counted votes, told The Syrian Voice.
Voters elected Faisal al-Azu as president of the local council by a wide margin. Rastan residents interviewed by The Syrian Voice said they felt relieved by the results, especially considering it was the first time they, or any civilians in the northern Homs countryside, had directly participated in the election of the local council president.
“We feel relieved, and at peace towards the local council president for the first time,” a Rastan resident who preferred anonymity told the Syrian Voice Sunday.
“We’ve chosen him ourselves, and subsequently expect him to choose competent members for the local council, make positive steps on the ground, implement successful projects to serve the city, and raise people’s quality of life in general,” he added.
Local Council President Feilsal al-Azu said in an interview with the Syrian Voice Sunday that, “I’m striving first of all to rejuvenate civilians’ trust in the council, and empower them to monitor the council and other organizations and charities, so that people know the reasons behind any [administrative] failure and who’s responsible for it.”
“I’ve begun to talk to a number of residents, and authorized the residential neighborhood councils to set up complaint boxes in every area to receive residents’ demands,” al-Azu added.
“I’m trying to solve Rastan’s problems with the means available to me.”
Al-Azu said that the local council was about to begin a long-term program to improve the availability of clean water and bread through measures such as storing flour.
Bread and water make up the most important needs of many Syrians, especially those in opposition-controlled areas, due to the regime cutting off essential services in regions that rebels have captured.
During al-Azu’s acceptance speech, residents demanded that the new local council president at least solve Rastan’s bread and water crises. They also asked that he organize the work of local charities and ensure fair distribution of aid and services.
Al-Azu promised to make improvements in those areas, and added that the local council does not aim only to provide essential municipal services, but that it is formulating plans to rebuild what the war has destroyed in the way of other local civil institutions.
translate by: Dan Wilkofsky