Syria Kurds hold first local vote to cement federal push
QAMISHLI - Agence France-PresseResidents of Kurdish-majority areas of northern Syria began voting on Sept. 22 in the region's first local elections, as part of a push to cement a semi-autonomous regional government.
The vote is the first stage in a three-part election to select representatives at the district, municipal and regional levels. It has been dismissed by Syria's central government as "a joke,” but for Kurds it represents a step towards a long-sought federal system.
Kurds made up around 15 percent of Syria's pre-war population. They largely stayed out of the uprising that erupted in March 2011, instead quietly building local control in Kurdish-majority areas after the withdrawal of most government troops.
In March 2016, they declared three semi-autonomous regions in the areas under their control, where voting began on Sept. 22 for representatives at the neighborhood or "commune" level.
Elections for executive councils for towns and larger areas are planned for Nov. 3.
Then, on Jan. 19, 2018, a final phase will elect legislative councils for each of the three regions, as well as a single joint legislative assembly.
At a polling station in Qamishli, in the northwestern province of Hasakeh, men and women, young and old, waited to vote, some eagerly brandishing their light blue voting cards.
They pressed their fingers into ink to fingerprint the cards, and then voted behind a curtain before placing their ballots in envelopes and into transparent boxes.
At the end of the process, an official coated a fingertip on each voter with blue ink to mark them as having voted.
Voter Mohamed Khalil said the election was the realisation of a dream for Syria's Kurds.
"Before, we were foreigners deprived of the right to run in elections and vote," the man told AFP, his grey hair and moustache neatly groomed.
"We didn't know the meaning of freedom, and we didn't have any rights. Today, and for the first time, we have been allowed to vote and stand, and we know the meaning of freedom."
The vote comes days before a controversial independence referendum being organised by Kurds in neighboring Iraq.