35,000 to run in Syria’s first local polls since 2011

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Almost 35,000 candidates are to contest town council elections next month, in Syria's first local polls since war broke out in 2011, a leading newspaper reported Wednesday.

"The candidacy committees from the provinces accepted 34,553 candidacy requests for the local administration elections... from more than 55,164 requests," said Suleiman al-Qaed, who heads the Higher Judicial Committee for Elections, quoted in Al-Watan.

The elections are set for September 18.

Qaed told the paper, which is close to the government, that 18,478 seats were up for grabs, a slight increase from the roughly 17,000 seats open in 2011.

"A large number of villages were transformed into municipalities, which is what explains the increase in the local seats that are being competed for," Qaed said.

But some provinces submitted no requests at all, including eastern Deir Ezzor, northeast Hasakeh, and Daraa in the south, according to Al-Watan.

Syrian government forces control the western half of Deir Ezzor province and its capital city, but in Hasakeh they only hold a few positions in Qamishli and Hasakeh cities.

Regime troops recaptured all of Daraa province, typically seen as the "cradle" of Syria's uprising, last month.

That has put Syria's government in charge of just under two-thirds of the country, while militants, rebel forces and Kurdish militia hold the rest.

State news agency SANA has reported the government would open special centers in Hama city so people from areas outside regime control -- northwest Idlib and northern Raqa -- could still register as candidates.

The country last held parliamentary elections in 2016. A presidential vote in 2014 renewed President Bashar al-Assad's rule for another seven years.

The new local councils are expected to have increased responsibilities.

"There will be much more work for the new council," said the current secretary-general of the Damascus provincial council, Bashar al-Haffar.

"It will oversee the task of setting development plans, suggesting investment projects, and making practical decisions appropriate for the reconstruction phase," said Haffar.

ALSO READ: Syria’s Assad says rebuilding is ‘top priority’

With his troops comfortably in control of much of the country, Assad said last month that his top priority would be "reconstruction".

Seven years of war in Syria have made public services like water and electricity unavailable in many areas and wrecked civilian infrastructure, including hospitals and schools.