Key discussion between Syrian Kurdish-led council and Damascus: autonomy or decentralization?

by Meghan Bodette    


One of the committees established by talks between the Syrian Democratic Council and Syrian government will address local and autonomous administration, SDC member Hesen Mihemed Elî told Hawar News Agency. Sources familiar with the meeting confirm that the Syrian government delegation has proposed Syrian Legislative Decree 107 as a framework for decentralization, while the SDC maintains that more autonomy is necessary.

Legislative Decree 107, passed in August of 2011, allows for local administration through elected councils at the local and provincial level. The councils would have control over certain projects and receive funding through the state budget, but remain under central oversight. Article 12 states that “each administrative unit shall have a council based in the centre of the unit, which shall consist of elected members in accordance with the provisions of the General Elections Law by universal, secret, direct and equal suffrage.” The decree defines an “administrative unit” as a governorate, city, town, or municipality.

The local and regional councils that already exist in Northern Syria, while superficially similar, are far more complex and autonomous. The smallest unit of local governance is the commune, which is formed at the neighbourhood or village level. Above that are town, district, and regional councils, then provincial (canton) councils, then a council comprising all the cantons of Rojava. These are more differentiated than the administrative units defined under the Syrian decentralization law— and it is unclear as to which of them would see any decentralization at all, though SDC representatives have stated that no SDF-liberated territory will be handed over to full Syrian government control.

Northern Syria has also institutionalized specific committees within each local council— including parallel women’s institutions— mandated gender parity, and ensured that religious and ethnic minority representation is guaranteed. Local democracy functions not only to meet material needs, but also to promote and develop the practice of equality. Decree 107 defines the responsibilities of local councils as including economic, social, cultural, and urban development— broad categories whose specific interpretation would likely be left to negotiations.

Another point of contention between the SDC model and the Decree 107 proposal will likely be the role of a state-appointed governor with significant powers over the local council. All officials in Northern Syrian councils are elected, and a council’s leadership is elected from the council members themselves. Whether the principles of equal representation integral to governance in Northern Syria would be reflected in such appointments is unclear.

So far, no final plan has been proposed, and there will likely be several more rounds of talks before any concrete proposals take shape. According to al-Watan's news on Tuesday, SDC has been to Damascus for the second round of talks with the state. SDC went for new talks on local administration and decentralization, al-Watan cited its co-chair Riad Darar as saying on Tuesday.

"All the discussions happening now are ... to find out the other side's point of view," he said. The talks "need a lot of reflection to make decisions, and so the matter was left to other meetings".