Palestine Pulse

Will Hamas boycott upcoming local elections?

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Article Summary
On Feb. 15, Hamas submitted to the Central Election Commission its three conditions for participating in Palestinian local elections rescheduled for May 13.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Hamas has set three prerequisites for its participation in the Palestinian local elections, scheduled to take place on May 13, after rejecting the call of the Palestinian government Jan. 31 to hold the elections across the Palestinian territories. Hamas considered this invitation as a response to the failed electoral process that was scheduled to take place in October 2016.

Hamas submitted its conditions to the Central Election Commission during a bilateral meeting between the two sides in Gaza City on Feb. 15. Hamas demanded that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas release the security grip on the movement in the West Bank and create a sound environment that would ensure integrity, transparency and respect for the freedom of elections, cancel all the decisions and decrees he issued in relation to the local elections, and finally resort to the Palestinian Local Elections law of 2005.

The presidential decree issued Jan. 10 provided for the formation of a local elections court, after amending the Local Elections law of 2005, authorizing the court to look into electoral appeals instead of the courts of first instance in the governorates, as stated in Article 1 of the law. This decree was rejected by Palestinian factions at the time.

The amendment comes in response to the dispute between Hamas and Fatah when the courts of first instance in the governorates of the Gaza Strip canceled several electoral lists for Fatah on Sept. 8, 2016, as various candidates were accused of some legal offenses. Fatah considered this decision to be an attempt to politicize the judiciary and refused to recognize these courts.

Hisham Kahil, the executive director of the Palestinian Central Election Commission, told Al-Monitor that Hamas squarely rejected the invitation to hold local elections without prior agreement with it. Kahil said that the movement was not satisfied with the suspension of the previous electoral process, not to mention that it rejects any legal amendments to the local elections law without prior consultation with it.

Kahil noted that Hamas expressed its position during the commission’s meeting with the movement’s leaders on Feb. 15. He considered the meeting to be part of the commission’s role to contact all the electoral process participants so as to ensure the elections will be held as called for in all governorates, according to the law. He said that the commission will also meet with other factions in the West Bank this week and that it has relayed Hamas’ position to the Palestinian government, waiting for the latter’s response as to whether or not to hold elections in the West Bank alone or halt them altogether, given Hamas’ rejection.

According to Articles 4 and 5 of the 2005 Local Elections law, the local council elections are to be held in one day. Should this not be possible, the government has the right to hold them at different times or in different locations, which is currently the case of the upcoming elections in May, scheduled to be held in the West Bank and not in Gaza because of the Palestinian division.

For his part, Dhul Fiqar Suergo, a member of the Central Committee of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), said it is unlikely for the PFLP to take part in the elections, should they be limited only to a part of the Palestinian territories. He stressed that the PFLP refuses to take part in any electoral process that would promote the Palestinian division and undermine the Palestinian political system.

“Hamas has the right not to take part in the local elections, but has no right to prevent their occurrence in Gaza because it is not the legal authority there — the Palestinian government is. The latter was the product of the decision of all Palestinian factions in June 2014 [to form a unity government],” Suergo told Al-Monitor.

Suergo called upon the factions to move forward with the elections as holding them is a Palestinian right, noting that he does not mind security services overseeing the electoral process in the Gaza Strip.

Akram Atallah, a political analyst and writer for Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam, told Al-Monitor that Hamas is right to demand that the security services in the West Bank not meddle in the upcoming local elections. He said that Hamas, however, should also urge security forces in Gaza to do the same.

He noted that Abbas is unlikely to respond to Hamas’ conditions, expecting the elections to take place in the West Bank alone, in light of Hamas’ objection to them in Gaza. This scenario is akin to that of 2012, when the elections were held only in the West Bank because of Hamas’ boycott.

Atallah believes that the best solution under this prevailing mistrust between Fatah and Hamas is for both parties to admit their failure to build a consensual political system and to let the Palestinians decide their own fate and build a political system they deem appropriate.

In the same context, Hussam al-Dajani, a diplomat in the Palestinian Foreign Ministry in Gaza and a political analyst, told Al-Monitor that he agrees with Atallah about the 2012 scenario playing out again, in light of Hamas’ rejection to hold elections in the Gaza Strip. He expects that the elections will be limited to the West Bank, with a large segment of Palestinians boycotting them.

Dajani noted that holding elections before ending the division is far-fetched. He said that Hamas had agreed to the elections that were suspended in 2016 because there was a consensual decision to hold them, which could have been an opportunity for Abbas to recognize Hamas’ institutions in Gaza. He added that Abbas and the Palestinian government, however, paid attention to this point and made sure to suspend them, making amendments to the Local Elections law of 2015.

It appears that the internal Palestinian division will continue to deprive the Palestinians of their right to hold unified elections in the Palestinian territories for the 12th year in a row. In 2005, elections were held across Palestine and Hamas won a majority of 34 local councils out of 68 in the West Bank, and four out of seven in the Gaza Strip.

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Found in: division, palestinian elections, gaza strip, fatah-hamas reconciliation, fatah, mahmoud abbas, hamas

Ahmad Abu Amer is a Palestinian writer and journalist who has worked for a number of local and international media outlets. He is co-author of a book on the Gaza blockade for the Turkish Anadolu Agency. He holds a master’s degree from the Islamic University of Gaza.

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