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Will Palestine’s upcoming local elections be worth the cost?

A lot of money is being poured into the local Palestinian elections, but some fear the funds will go to waste when the vote proves divisive and the results are contested.
Palestinian policemen stand guard outside the headquarters of  the Central Elections Commission in the West Bank town of El Bireh August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman  - RTX2LI47

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Hisham Kahil, the executive director of the Palestinian Central Elections Commission (CEC), revealed during a televised interview with the local Wattan News Agency on July 23 that the local elections scheduled for Oct. 8 will cost $8 million — $5.5 million in the West Bank and $2.5 million in the Gaza Strip — an amount that the government has pledged to provide from the state budget.

CEC spokesman Fareed Taamallah told Al-Monitor, “The $8 million will cover the entire cost of the electoral process, including publications, awareness campaigns, training, staff, electoral materials, stationery and others.”

He explained how the cost is calculated, “We have previous experience in this regard. We rely on the presidential elections in 2005 and the legislative elections in 2006 to determine the number of polling stations and their staffing needs as well as requirements, such as ballot boxes, stationery, transportation fees and others, in order to determine the total cost.”

He said, “Elections create temporary jobs for thousands of citizens, as the commission employs a large number of people on the polling day. These workers are given a training course two days before the election day. … They are entrusted with receiving the voters inside the polling stations, guiding and giving them directions on the electoral process and supervising the ballot boxes and the voting process.”

He also pointed out that “15,600 workers will be recruited." He added, "They will be selected from among teachers in collaboration with the Ministry of Education in both the West Bank and Gaza to work in 1,032 stations, including 758 in the West Bank and 274 in the Gaza Strip.”

Taamallah explained that the polling stations will be mostly in schools run by the government, and some by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.

The 2005 presidential elections and the 2006 legislative elections were the first elections to be held under the Palestinian Authority (PA) in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip. There were no elections before that date, as Fatah leader Yasser Arafat presided over the PA since its establishment. After his death, the PLO and Fatah announced that presidential elections would be held to elect a successor, and Mahmoud Abbas was elected president. Subsequently, Abbas issued a decree on holding legislative elections for the first time in the West Bank and Gaza, where Hamas obtained the majority of seats. The last local council elections held in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip at once was in 2005. In 2012, local elections were held in West Bank, but not in Gaza.

These local council elections will be the first to be held under the PA in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip together after the internal Palestinian division that started in 2007, when Hamas and its military wing Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades took over the Gaza Strip.

Assistant Undersecretary of the Ministry of Education Azzam Abu Bakr told Al-Monitor that the ministry is providing logistical support to the commission by hosting polling stations at schools and providing workers from the various schools across the provinces of Gaza and the West Bank from among the qualified and experienced teachers who were recruited in previous elections.

On the ministry's cooperation with the CEC, he said, “The commission submits a complete estimate of the number of stations and their distribution in the various governorates as well as the needed number of teachers according to geographic areas. The ministry appoints coordinators from the various departments to draw up the inventories, equip schools, communicate with the selected teachers and appoint heads of stations from among teachers with experience and know-how.”

Taxi driver Tariq Ahmad thinks the elections are a waste of time and money. He told Al-Monitor, “I do not think these elections will be successful in light of the current internal Palestinian division and the different programs and ideas between Fatah and Hamas. Even if the elections are held, there is zero possibility for any change as long as each party controls its own area of influence.”

Nurse Riham Khaled expressed her discontent, telling Al-Monitor, “These elections will be like all other elections and will only be a waste of time and effort and a loss of money. Neither of the parties accepts the other, and neither party has sincere intentions to reconcile and end the division. Each party wants to monopolize decision-making in Palestine.”

In turn, Mazen al-Ajala, an economic researcher and lecturer at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, told Al-Monitor, “The elections’ cost ought to be covered by funds from donors instead of exhausting the state’s treasury.” He said, “We cannot really tell whether this cost will be commensurate with the electoral process. We will have to wait and see if the elections will be a success or a flop.”

Ajala added, “I don’t think that the local council elections should be a priority at the moment as they are not the key to national unity and ending division. On the contrary, they are likely to entrench division, as each party is claiming that the results are a foregone conclusion, while trying to sabotage each other.”

In this context, Bahjat al-Hilou, an education and training coordinator in the Independent Commission for Human Rights, told Al-Monitor, “The success of the electoral process is not measured in terms of the availability of funds, budgets and workers, but in terms of ensuring a sound electoral environment in which rights are respected and where the ruling power does not interfere but rather provides an appropriate political and security atmosphere for holding elections.”

He said, “Local and international human rights organizations are recruiting hundreds of local and international observers and are spending a lot of money to monitor the electoral process and record observations on integrity and fairness, which makes it imperative [for Palestinians] to abide by electoral rules and respect the public interest so that the money that has been spent will not have been a waste.”

During a press conference held in Gaza Aug. 25, Undersecretary of the Interior Ministry Kamel Abu Madi said that his ministry is ready to ensure an appropriate atmosphere for the elections and that all security forces in Gaza will be working to secure the polling stations.

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