RAMALLAH, West Bank — Hanna Nasir, the chairman of the Palestinian Central Elections Commission (CEC) located in al-Bireh, said that Hamas has formally agreed to run for the municipal elections scheduled to be held on Oct. 8. The last elections were held in 2005 in all Palestinian territories (the West Bank and Gaza Strip). The upcoming elections come seven years after the four-year term of the local councils ended in 2009, a hiatus that resulted from the internal Palestinian division.
Hamas received reassurances from the CEC that the elections will be held under appropriate conditions, whereby freedoms will be preserved and the decisions of the Gaza courts vis-a-vis the elections’ results will be respected.
In his interview with Al-Monitor, Nasir expressed concerns about potential Israeli restrictions on the entry of electoral material, such as brochures and ballot boxes, into the Gaza Strip. He also fears that Israel might not issue permits for CEC staff to enter the Gaza Strip through the Erez border crossing, and that Israel may apprehend some candidates or ban campaigns for some electoral lists.
The text of the interview follows:
Al-Monitor: It has been 11 years since the last municipal elections were held in 2005 in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The new elections are scheduled to be held on Oct. 8. So what are Hamas’ rules to participate in them?
Nasir: Hamas did not set conditions, but it rather inquired about the extent of freedoms for holding the elections and about whether or not the electoral provisions and judgments by courts in Gaza would be respected. The CEC responded to the inquiries and confirmed that it will accept the courts’ decisions, without challenging them, away from any political connotations. Hamas then announced its approval to compete in the elections.
Al-Monitor: Why did it take 10 years to hold these elections? What has changed today? Why did you choose Oct. 8, and who set this date?
Nasir: The Palestinian Cabinet is the only authority competent to call for holding local elections and set the date to this effect. The current decision comes four years after the previous CEC call to hold local elections in 2012, in application of the law. Back then, Hamas refused to hold or participate in them in Gaza and thus they were held only in the West Bank. Perhaps today the situation has become riper for elections in both parts of the Palestinian territories.
Al-Monitor: Will Hamas participate in the municipal elections in both Gaza and the West Bank?
Nasir: This is up to Hamas, but in its media statements, it said it would and would be supportive of the elections.
Al-Monitor: Do you think that Hamas and Fatah will maintain transparency in elections in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip? What are the challenges that you might face in the elections in Gaza and the West Bank?
Nasir: The transparency and integrity of elections are at the basis of the CEC’s work and procedures. However, maintaining freedoms and respecting the electoral results require the efforts of everyone, including Hamas, Fatah and the rest of the Palestinian factions, as well as the government. All political parties and factions have signed a charter of honor under the CEC auspices, providing for organizing and regulating relations between candidates, respecting electoral lists, the CEC decisions and, most importantly, the election results. As for the challenges we might face, [we will have] to preserve the integrity and transparency of elections as well as the CEC impartiality, which is the commission’s main goal.
There is no doubt that the presence of representatives of different factions, international and local observers, will help flag any breach that might take place. Therefore, the monitoring process would contribute greatly to preserving the smooth functioning of the electoral process. We might face other challenges as the Israeli authorities might try to impose restrictions on the entry of electoral materials to Gaza.
Therefore, the CEC does not deal directly with the Israeli authorities, but through the Ministry of Civil Affairs, which coordinates these issues with the Israeli side. In such cases, the matter is raised with the competent governmental authorities to coordinate and eliminate obstacles. Another challenge is that Israel can deny permits for the CEC staff, arrest candidates or prevent the electoral campaigning of some lists.
Al-Monitor: What is the budget for the elections in Gaza and the West Bank? Who are the authorities funding these elections?
Nasir: We need about $8 million to hold the elections in the West Bank and Gaza, and we submitted a budget [proposal] to the Palestinian government, which will provide the necessary funding. We are expecting to receive financing at any moment.
Al-Monitor: What is the total number of municipalities, including existing and newly established ones, that will participate in the elections?
Nasir: The Cabinet gave us a list of 416 local councils where elections will be held, including 25 in the Gaza Strip. Elections were held in the majority of these councils, but some of them were merged councils and have now split, especially in the West Bank.
Al-Monitor: Do you think that the elections will be held and will lead to new and powerful municipal councils?
Nasir: Yes, the elections will be held on time. There is a semi-consensus among all Palestinian factions on the need to hold elections and participate in them. Of course, the elected councils will have a democratic legitimacy, stronger powers and new blood.
Al-Monitor: Will the electoral law based on lists be changed to include an individual system? Are there proposals and calls to change the electoral law?
Nasir: The legislative authorities in the Palestinian Authority are entitled to introduce amendments to the law. The current elections will be held according to the proportional system based on the applicable law of 2005. No amendments should be made to the law when elections are around the corner or in the midst of the electoral process, even if the legislative authorities are entitled to do so.
Al-Monitor: Will presidential and legislative elections be held after the municipal elections slated for Oct. 8? If so, what is the expected date for these elections?
Nasir: We hope so. The Palestinian people are eager to hold general and periodic elections. This is at the heart of the CEC’s work. We hope that the success of local elections will pave the way toward general elections and reconciliation among the Palestinian people. But holding the legislative and presidential elections is not one of our prerogatives but rather a decision issued by virtue of a presidential decree.