Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Kurdish Areas of Syria Prepare for Local Elections

Move comes as part of ongoing institution-building efforts in Kurdish provinces.

Kurdish areas under opposition control in northern and northeastern Syria are drafting an electoral law ahead of a vote for a regional assembly at the end of May.

The Democratic Union Party (PYD) announced in January that an electoral body was already operating in the de facto Kurdish autonomous region which covers three provinces.

The mostly Kurdish town of Amuda, in the northeastern Hasakah governorate, is the region’s temporary capital and is under the total control of the PYD, the main Kurdish party inside Syria.

The PYD earlier announced the formation of an interim assembly or “legislative council” consisting of 100 members, which has since drafted a document to be used as a constitution for the autonomous region.

In another initiative, this interim council issued an amnesty at the end of January covering offences committed in areas under its control prior to the end of 2013. The amnesty does not include murder or corruption cases.

Saleh Kado, appointed foreign minister of the autonomous region, told the media that the amnesty was intended to “serve the community” and was fostering an “atmosphere of optimism and democracy”.

The Kurdish region also has a cabinet made up of 22 ministries, with Akram Hissou as prime minister.

Kurds, Assyrians and Arabs each have a a third of the seats in the cabinet and the legislative council. Members are not being paid.

“The autonomous region is unable to pay salaries at the moment,” Hissou said in a statement.

Cabinet spokeswoman Joanne Mohammad says the cabinet or “executive council” includes technocrats, PYD members, Arabs, and representatives of other parties like the Syriac Union.

Municipal bodies which the PYD has set up in major towns will perform the work of provincial councils until the local administration ministry finishes drafting a law outlining responsibilities.

The make-up of local councils will be decided by secret ballot once elections for the legislative council have taken place.

Improving living conditions is seen as one of the greatest challenges facing local councils and the Kurdish government of the autonomous region.

Months after the autonomous region was declared and a government formed, there has only been gradual progress.

Residents of Kurdish towns have suffered severe power shortages, and Eldar Khalil, a member of the Social Democratic Movement, an ally of the PYD, says there have been attempts to coordinate with Damascus and the Turkish power ministry to provide some electricity to Kurdish regions. These agreements have not yet been concluded.

There are now traffic police on main roads in some of the larger towns like Qamishli, where shops fixed their prices on orders from the Kurdish consumer protection ministry.

Many residents in Qamishli see the current administration as a successful trial-run for decentralisation and democracy in Syria.

Ali, not his real name, is a Kurdish resident of Qamishli who supports of autonomous rule.

“This is the first time I have ever seen Kurds celebrating and raising the Kurdish flag without fear,” he said. “I am ready to sacrifice everything in order for this administration to succeed.”

Opponents see the current system as domination by the PYD, and argue that in any case, the new government has only nominal control.

Schoolteacher Maha (not her real name) said that the Kurdish administration was yet to launch any substantive initiatives.

Technically, the government remains subservient to Damascus insofar as its civil servants are paid wages by the regime.

“The coming days will show whether the new government is able to secure services for the residents of Qamishli,” she said. “Are residents going to benefit from decentralisation if all it means is that they have to go to Hasakah [city] rather than Damascus to pick up their identification papers?” 

This story was produced by the Damascus Bureau, IWPR’s news platform for Syrian journalists.