TEHRAN (Press Shia) – Syrians in government-controlled areas cast their ballots Sunday in the first local elections there since 2011.

Polling booths opened at 7:00 a.m. across government-held parts of the country and will be open for 12 hours, with a potential five-hour extension depending on turnout, reported state news agency SANA.

It said more than 40,000 candidates are competing for 18,478 seats on local administrative councils.

In Damascus, election posters mostly featuring incumbents were plastered across public squares, including in the Old City.

Mohammad Kabbadi, a 42-year-old government employee, cast his ballot in the Bab Sharqi district of the capital for a candidate from his neighborhood.

"I know exactly who I am going to vote for – he's young, active and his victory will bring good things to residents of this area," said Kabbadi.

Now Syrian troops are back in control of around two-thirds of the country after a string of victories, most recently around Damascus and in southern Syria.

Council members serve four-year terms at the municipal level and are mostly responsible for service provision and other administrative matters.

Those elected in this round are expected to have more responsibilities than their predecessors, particularly linked to reconstruction and urban development.

Syria last held local elections in December 2011, just nine months into a foreign-backed conflict.

It held parliamentary elections in 2016 and a presidential vote in 2014 that renewed President Bashar Assad's ruling for another seven years.