GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Palestinian factions in Gaza, including Fatah, began preparations to participate in university student elections as part of national reconciliation initiatives proposed by Hamas. The elections were said to be held in the first semester of the next academic year, but no exact date has been set. Fatah may not be able to compete in the elections with a single list in light of its internal disputes, while Hamas may also face difficulties in the elections, considering its political and financial crisis.
Hamas, Fatah and other factions agreed on creating a supreme national commission to monitor student elections as well as union elections in Gaza. However, union elections faced more obstacles that go beyond those that were resolved by mutual agreement.
Sami Abu Zuhri, a representative of Hamas in the commission, said that as a first step, the factions agreed during their meetings to hold student elections imminently and task student committees with drafting an electoral law according to proportional representation.
“Holding union elections will need more time. A committee comprising different union blocs was formed to hold discussions about the mechanisms before heading to elections. So far, one meeting was held, but it was not attended by Fatah’s representative,” Abu Zuhri added.
The factions only agreed to hold student elections because Hamas and Fatah are concerned about participating in union elections amid the current political situation, which is taking its toll on the two major factions on the Palestinian scene. They fear union elections might affect their popularity.
A well-informed source on the course of agreements related to university and union elections told Al-Monitor, “Fatah is concerned about its internal problems, which led the movement to throw a wrench in the works of reaching a final agreement on union elections.” Noha al-Buhaisi, a member of the Supreme Leadership Committee and the one in charge of al-Shabiba, the student branch of Fatah in Gaza, noted that the movement has started its preparations for student elections to choose representatives for all universities within a democratic process.
“There is an agreement within all organizational spheres of the movement to hold internal elections to choose unified lists for university and institution elections, and the list will be done within a month,” Buhaisi told Al-Monitor.
A Fatah source explained to Al-Monitor, however, that Fatah cannot possibly hold internal elections to sort out the electoral lists, since the movement has concerns about members backing the dismissed Fatah official Mohammad Dahlan. “This was shown in the elections of the workers union in al-Azhar University, the stronghold of Fatah. The list was selected while the elections did not lead to an agreement between the factions affiliated to [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas and Dahlan,” the source said.
“The majority of Fatah’s active actors in Gaza support Dahlan. However, some do not voice their support fearing the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah will cut off their salaries. If any internal elections were held, Dahlan’s faction will win, which means he will have full control of all the branches of Fatah [in Gaza], which Abu Mazen does not want,” the source added.
The tension between Abbas and his political rival Dahlan reached its peak as they contended for power within Fatah in Gaza, the West Bank, and even Lebanon. The most recent incident was a clash between supporters of the two Fatah rivals at al-Azhar University in Gaza on March 17.
Abdel Rahman Hamad, member of the Supreme Leadership Committee in Fatah, tried to downplay fears of the impact of internal conflicts on the popularity of the movement in any upcoming elections, whether it was student or union elections.
“There are some flaws within Fatah, and we, as the leadership committee, are taking full responsibility to eliminate these flaws. We will certainly participate in the elections through one unified list,” Hamad told Al-Monitor.
Mukhaimer Abu Saada, a professor of political science at al-Azhar University, told Al-Monitor, “It would be very hard for Fatah to participate in elections through a single list as disputes that are taking place now between Abu Mazen and Dahlan would have clear repercussions on the future of the movement and its mechanisms for dealing with elections.”
On the other hand, Hamas — which will have a better position in student elections than its political rival Fatah — is not rushing into holding elections all at once. It is taking its time to see the results of these elections before participating in more influential elections.
A Hamas source told Al-Monitor that the movement was relatively confident about the elections. “We conducted internal polls to learn of the opinion of students in universities and to see if Hamas would win the same number of seats it has now or even more, or if its share would decrease in comparison to that of Fatah.”
“We are going through a political crisis right now, and Palestinians are dissatisfied with the current situation. This, however, did not increase the popularity of Fatah, which is undergoing a dire plight. At least, we will be participating in the elections with a single list, while Fatah will have more than one, which will increase our chances to win,” the source added.
Hamas does not seem to be going through an internal crisis as dire as that of Fatah. This will be to the advantage of Hamas if it decides to participate in elections, whether on the level of student councils, unions, municipalities, or parliament. Yet, Hamas fears that its popularity will dwindle in favor of other parties, or that one of the two Fatah factions will settle the dispute and face Hamas on its own.
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