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Local Government History

The political development of Syria since the 1960s has strongly favored centralized planning and administration. Recently, some Syrian leaders have supported decentralization, but this has translated into few concrete policies. The government institutional structure remains dependent on the leadership and management of a small group of political decision-makers in the central government. Although formal local government administration does exist at the provincial and municipal level, these agencies tend to be extensions of central ministries and the national political apparatus.

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Administrative Divisions

Syria is divided into 14 governorates (muhafazat) and each is headed by a governor appointed by the Ministry of Interior. These governors report directly to the president. The governors control provincial government offices as well as the local offices of ministries and state-owned enterprises. Below the provinces, there are, in descending order of authority, manatiq (districts), nawahi (subdistricts), and villages. There were also elected councils for each governorate and for 106 urban districts that qualified as cities in 2006, 248 towns, and 207 villages.

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Municipal and Local Government Budgets

All government expenditures are included in one national budget produced by the Ministry of Finance. Local governments receive all operating funds from the central government and any excess revenues collected are returned to the national treasury.

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Reform: Fiscal Decentralization

With consultants provided by the European Union, Syria is conducting studies to strengthen the local governments of Aleppo, Damascus, Dar al Zor, Homs, Latakia, and Tartus. The program will focus on transferring powers from the central to the local government through new legislation, improved financial management, and the creation of new urban planning practices and property management skills.

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Local Elections

The most recent local Syrian elections took place on August 26 and 27, 2007. Law 91/1971 pertaining to electing local councils stipulates that every citizen 18 years of age or more is eligible to vote in local elections, except those who serve in the army or the police force. Around 8 million citizens hold voting cards. At stake were a total of 9687 council seats, distributed as follows: 1262 seats for governorate councils (14 governorates); 2942 seats for city councils (11 cities); 3133 seats for town councils and 2350 seats for village councils. A governorate council is composed of 30 - 100 members calculated on the basis of one representative for every 10,000 citizens. The executive bureau of the governorate might include between 6 and 10 members. There was a total of 32,058 candidates for the 9687 council seats. There were 11,545 voting centers, each of which was supervised by a committee of 3 persons. Most voting centers had two ballot boxes, one for electing governorate councils and the second for electing other councils.

The elections were conducted according to the “closed lists” of the “National Progressive Front” (an alliance of 10 political parties) that had been abandoned by the Baath Party leadership in the local elections of 2003. The “closed lists” system guarantees 50% of all municipal seats for the Front’s candidates with the biggest share allocated to the Baath party members. The other 50% is left to open or free competition among independent candidates. The “closed lists” determine in advance the names and number of candidates from each party in the National Progressive Front. The electoral campaign was delayed as candidates were awaiting the declaration of the Front’s closed lists. In general, the campaign was almost invisible. Unlicensed opposition parties boycotted the elections.

The Minister of Local Governance and Environment announced final election results. He said that the elections were orderly and smooth. The number of voters who practiced their voting right was 3.970,000, putting the participation rate at 49.54%.

The first category of citizens “A” which includes workers, peasants and artisans won 60% of local seats in governorate and city councils, leaving 40% of these seats to the second category “B” which includes all other social strata. At the level of town and village councils representatives of category “A” occupied 70% of seats leaving 30% to representatives of category “B”. Only 319 women won local councils’ seats thereby constituting 3.2% of local councils’ membership.

Four independent lists contested elections in Damascus. One outstanding outcome of elections was that "Al-Faiha List" of 6 businessmen who do not support the Baath regime won 6 seats in Damascus city municipal council.

Previous local elections in Syria were held in 2003. Voters elected candidates to 14 governorate councils, 95 city councils, 231 town councils, and 181 village councils. The electoral system divides elections into two categories: reserved seats for peasants, workers, and craftsman, and a residual category for all other peoples. Sixty percent of the seats at the governorate and city levels are reserved, while at the town and village level a full seventy percent used to be reserved. In 2003, however, an "Open Lists" electoral system was adopted for the towns and villages. The rate of participation in the provinces was 37% of eligible voters, 21% in cities, 34% in towns, and 33% in villages. Representatives of towns and villages constitute 11,500 members out of 15,000. The 2003 local elections experienced lower rates of participation than those of 1999, when voter turnout was 66 percent.

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