Disappointing Palestine Elections Point to Fundamental Issues

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The first municipal elections in the West Bank in seven years saw disappointing voter turnout due to a Hamas boycott and a poor showing by liberal and secularist candidates. Talal Awkal argues that regardless of boycotts, the Palestinian situation won't improve until democracy is established and Palestinians’ rights are respected. 

The results of the municipal elections did not meet the expectations of election officials in the West Bank. In fact, the outcome of the elections reflects the worsening political scene across the Palestinian territories.

These local elections, which were supposed to be a cause for celebration for Palestinians, were a far cry from the 2006 legislative elections, which many Arabs wish to witness again.

These were the first municipal elections to take place in seven years, and only occurred following repeated delays.

The elections confirmed what Palestinians had concluded long ago, since it came to be expected that Hamas and the Islamic Jihad Movement would boycott such elections. This explains the low turnout and the absence of any real competition in the elections.

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In light of their lack of influence and power over public opinion, leftist parties and other independent candidates are not considered fierce competitors for the Fatah party’s official candidates. In the end, Fatah is competing with itself and can only triumph, despite the participation of other factions and several independent candidates who had announced their candidacy through coalition lists.

It is noteworthy that several Fatah members have decided to run independently against Fatah’s official list, in defiance of the warnings of the Central Election Committee. The committee had warned that any Fatah member running independently would be ousted from the party’s official election lists.

Divisions among Fatah members seem to be more political rather than organizational. According to some observers, such new divisions might reflect additional conflicts and disputes within the organization.

It is most unfortunate that Fatah has failed to improve its own conditions and to stand on its own feet again, despite its sixth general conference. The conference was convened years ago to help the organization rise to power once again, by learning from its previous bad experiences and regaining its indisputable role as a pioneer.

The first round of the municipal elections included around 25% of the municipalities and govenorates in which the elections will take place.

Statistics show that only 50% of voters registered to vote, however, and only around 54% of those voters cast their vote. Such figures clearly indicate that Palestinians have lost confidence in the parties running in the elections.

According to a poll conducted by the Arwad Foundation last September, around 55% of registered voters expressed disappointment at the performance of the former municipalities.

Observers argue that the remaining 50% of voters who refused to register to vote are supporters of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad movement. Others believe that these voters decided to boycott the elections. In any event, no one can confirm or deny such allegations. However, it is important that we take into consideration these statements, which are intended to justify the boycotting of the elections and the whole election process.  

The constitution provides for municipal elections, which are being held today [Oct. 22] after several postponements. In other words, local and legislative elections must not be contingent upon a national consensus, particularly given that Palestinians have adopted the “Basic Law” (the interim constitution) and stick to it in their everyday life.

All the excuses that have been given justifying the boycotting of the municipal elections clearly indicate that the boycotters consider the party’s own interests more important than national interests and general law. As long as some parties have the right of veto, it will be impossible to reach any decision. Moreover, it is not fair to deem the current elections illegal.

In fact, the local elections are without a doubt legal. They will remain so as long as they allow all citizens to exercise their electoral rights by registering to vote and voting or by running in the elections.

Despite the legitimacy of the current local elections, Palestinians must be fully aware of the harmful effects that a lack of consensus could have on such elections and their subsequent results. It is unacceptable, however, to claim that these elections deepen divisions among Palestinian parties and seriously harm the reconciliation process.

This claim would be valid if a reconciliation process even existed, or if there were any genuine efforts or effective mechanisms for reaching such a reconciliation. So should Palestinian citizens remain deprived of their basic rights in hopes of a reconciliation? What if this long-sought reconciliation never sees the light of day? What if it materializes after several years?

The current local elections clearly indicate that the reconciliation process remains stalled. However, these elections could hinder the process if they are used to abort any reconciliation, prevent a democratic process and deprive the Palestinians of their electoral rights.

In any event, I cannot understand how municipal elections in a Palestinian city or town, whether in Gaza or the West Bank, can sabotage the reconciliation plan. The process is stalled as long as Palestinian parties have different ambitions and maintain hidden agendas which serve the interests of other countries.

Concerning internal affairs, the Palestinian situation will remain the same unless democracy is established and Palestinians’ rights are respected. Since the constitution provides for municipal elections, which are only held in the West Bank, we request that such elections be also held in the Gaza Strip — regardless of the reconciliation process.

In fact, all political parties should refrain from imposing their will on the public, oppressively and by force.

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Found in: reconciliation, palestinian, hamas, fatah
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