Opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad voted on Sunday to elect 29 provincial council members to run rebel-held areas in the northern province of Aleppo, organizers and participants told AFP.
"For the first time, Aleppo will have a freely elected provincial council. We hope the whole of Syria will have a free election soon," candidate Yehia Naanaa from the bombed-out town of Hreitan told AFP.
The vote is being held in the Turkish town of Gaziantep because of security problems in Aleppo itself.
"The vote is full of challenges. Because of insecurity in Aleppo, we couldn't hold the vote there. Also, no candidate could campaign properly," Naanaa said.
Aleppo city has been swept by deadly conflict since July last year, and much of the province, particularly the north and the west, has suffered from violence for even longer.
Large swathes of Aleppo have slipped out of regime control, causing a security vacuum in many areas.
Residents of what was once Syria's commercial hub suffer from shortages of water, flour and electricity, and the province has suffered widespread destruction and damage to infrastructure.
"The provincial council's main goal will be to run administrative affairs for civilians, and also to ensure infrastructure, irrigation and public institutions are protected, so that political life can restart after Assad's fall," Naanaa said.
The opposition organised a complex election along district lines: Aleppo city was one district, while north, south, east and west of the province counted as a district each, key opposition Syrian National Council member Abdel Rahman al-Hajj said.
"Twenty-nine provincial council members are being chosen by some 240 electoral commission members," Hajj told AFP, adding that the commission comprises local opposition leaders tasked by Aleppo residents to organize the vote.
Results will be announced on Monday, organizers said.
Although the vote was held in Turkey, the future provincial council will be based inside Syria, Hajj said.
"The creation of a provincial council means that civilian affairs will be organized from now on at an institutional level, rather than by individual activists," he said.
"It's a complex process, but it is a step forward for Syria."
Aleppo province resident and anti-regime activist Abu Omar said he was happy the election was being held.
"It's the first time I have witnessed an election in which I don't know who will win. No one can pressure anybody into choosing any candidate here," he told AFP.