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Voters elect first woman to local council in Aleppo, Syria

Local elections were held recently in the Free Syrian Army-held town of Ain Jara, where more women voted than men and a female candidate was elected to the local council.

ALEPPO, Syria — Dec. 1 was Kenana Abdul Razzaq’s first day of work on the local council of Ain Jara in western Aleppo province. Her election Nov. 24 marked the first time women have been allowed to run — or vote — in this area held by the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Out of four female candidates, Abdul Razzaq was the only one elected to the 15-member council, which represents the town and surrounding rural areas. At the council's first meeting, the members elected a president, vice president and members of the executive bureau.

“I will be running the women's affairs office in the local council, and I will be focusing my efforts on supporting and empowering women at the educational, social and health levels during this one-year term," Abdul Razzaq told Al-Monitor.

She said her ambition is to see women assume a greater role on the local council.

“Running in the elections has been a distinguished experience. For the first time, women were able to run and vote in the FSA-held areas in the Aleppo countryside," she added. "I really hope that the same applies to the other cities and towns in order for women to be actively involved in the political, social and economic spheres.”

Turnout for the area was strong, especially among women, according to Asma Mohamad al-Mahmoud, who acted as an election monitor for the local administration councils unit of the Free Aleppo Governorate Council. Of the 11,000 people eligible to vote in the council race, 5,000 actually cast ballots.

“Voter turnout ... was unexpectedly high, particularly among women. The turnout of women voters exceeded 50% of the overall voters, which means that they outnumbered men," Mahmoud told Al-Monitor.

“One can say that the electoral process has been a success, with great transparency and impartiality. Such an experiment is the first of its kind in the FSA-held areas in the Aleppo countryside,” she added. “The upcoming local councils’ elections in Aleppo [province] scheduled for early 2019 will witness improvements, and we will have a major role in training candidates and raising awareness in towns and cities where local elections will take place.”

Although the election monitoring organizations pointed out some violations at some polling stations, and organizational mistakes in the electoral process, such as when the ballot boxes could be opened, this first experiment has been fruitful for local councils and civil organizations in the area. Police were part of the monitoring process, securing the polling stations and imposing tight measures to avoid any security incident.

Before the elections, the Free Aleppo Governorate Council, the Local Development and Small Projects Support Office and the Syrian Feminist Society held workshops to raise awareness among candidates of the electoral process and platforms, and educated them about how elections are monitored in Ain Jara.

Hasna Barakat, a representative of the Syrian Feminist Society, told Al-Monitor that the organizations helped the candidates with their campaigns, "with posters and banners filling the streets of the town and surrounding villages.”

Barakat said, "An electoral committee consisting the Free Aleppo Governorate Council, as well as representatives of the candidates and organizations in every polling station, was set up. ... All 35 candidates attended multiple training sessions the election support organizations gave in the town. [The sessions] provided an explanation of the electoral mechanism, electoral laws, violations, electoral fraud, and voting eligibility. [Candidates] were also trained on how to put in place electoral and working programs,” she noted. “As for the Syrian Feminist Society ... we focused on supporting the four female candidates and marketing their candidacy via posters in the streets.”

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