DAMASCUS, SYRIA - Syria held its first municipal elections since 2011 on Sunday, amid tensions with the country's self-administered Kurdish region, which refused to allow polls.
Turnout was modest at stations in the Syrian capital and candidates aligned with the ruling Baath party were expected to win. The Baath party has controlled Syria's political and security apparatuses since the 1960s.
Hassan Taraqji, a Baath candidate in Damascus, said reconstruction was a top priority for voters after more than seven years of civil war.
"We hope we can meet the people's aspirations and improve conditions and services in the city," he said.
The war waged by President Bashar Assad's government against local opposition forces and the Islamic State group has cost the country more than $300 billion in economic damage, according to a recent U.N. study. Observers say more than 400,000 people have been killed.
But parts of the country remain beyond Damascus' reach, including the U.S.-backed self-administered Kurdish region in north Syria, which also includes Arab and minority populations.
The region is governed by its own Syrian Democratic Council, which refused to allow the Damascus-organized elections to proceed on its territory.
"The regime wants us to remain under its rule and under the rule of the Baath," said Ibrahim Ibrahim, a spokesman for the administration.
Kurdish officials say they want a federalized Syria that respects the northeast's autonomy from Damascus and guarantees rights and privileges for national minorities.
High-level meetings between representatives of the SDC and Baath and federal officials in Damascus are yet to produce a breakthrough.
Damascus insists it will assert its authority over the whole country.
Hussein Dabboul, a Member of Parliament from Aleppo, a north Syrian city near the edges of the self-administration zone, said the the SDC was "linked to foreign powers and to the United States, and it has certain objectives and targets."
The Kurdish-led administration itself is criticized for single-party rule.
More than 40,000 candidates are competing for 18,478 council seats, according to the Ministry of Local Administration. Polls are slated to close at 7 p.m. local time (1600 GMT).
Presidential elections were held in 2014 in limited areas of government control.