Disappointing results for Fatah in Palestinian elections

Sunday 21/05/2017
Rare chance. A Palestinian woman casts her ballot during the municipal elections in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on May 13. (AFP)

London- Palestinian Authority Presi­dent Mahmoud Abbas’s ruling Fatah party received much less support than it had hoped for in munici­pal elections across the West Bank, even though the rival Islamic Ha­mas movement stayed out of the race.

The vote reflected public dis­content with Abbas and his Fatah movement, whose popularity has dropped due to a weak economy, nepotism in its ranks and its failure to lead Palestinians closer to inde­pendence.

The vote gave Palestinians a rare chance to cast ballots after more than a decade without presiden­tial or legislative elections. Abbas’s embattled party ran virtually unop­posed and the election was consid­ered a litmus test of Fatah’s popu­larity.

The results indicated lacklustre support for the party, which has dominated Palestinian politics for half a century.

Just 53% of eligible voters cast ballots in the May 13 election. The turnout was nearly the same as it was for local elections in the West Bank in 2012, Elections Commission chief, Hanna Nasser, said.

Fatah had hoped for a higher turn­out. “We need to increase the voting percentage to tell the world that we have democracy in Palestine,” Fatah candidate Maher Kanawati, told Eu­ronews ahead of the elections.

Abbas is more than a decade into what was supposed to be a 4-year term that was meant to end in 2009 but he has remained in office with no elections organised.

In Hebron, the West Bank’s larg­est city and a Hamas stronghold, Fatah won just seven of the 15 seats.

“The result wasn’t great for us,” Tayseer Abu Sneineh, the head of Fatah’s list in the city, told the As­sociated Press.

In Nablus, another major city, Fa­tah won 11 of 15 seats but only after forming an alliance with Islamist candidates. Turnout in Nablus was 21%.

Fatah only won clear victories in two major cities, Jenin and Jericho. In several cities, Fatah could not piece together enough candidates to field a campaign list, leaving lo­cal Fatah politicians to run as inde­pendents.

For many of those who did vote, the message was not political. “Peo­ple here are casting ballots to be represented in terms of local servic­es, road building, building permits,” wrote Harry Fawcett on Al Jazeera English’s website, branding the poll as “a one-party election” due to the absence of candidates from rival parties.

Some commentators, however, saw the voting as a positive measure despite the low turnout.

“While student councils and mu­nicipal elections cannot be used an­ymore as political barometers of po­litical tendencies in Palestine, they are still seen as important features in the continuity and sustainability of daily life, irrespective of politi­cal progress or lack thereof,” wrote Palestinian political commentator Daoud Kuttab in the website Arab­news.com.

About 2.2 million Palestinians live in the West Bank, with about 787,000 of them eligible to vote. East Jerusalem’s 300,000 residents did not take part in the elections.

The Palestinians have been di­vided between rival governments since Hamas defeated Fatah in the 2006 legislative elections and drove the latter out of the Gaza Strip the following year, leaving Abbas in control only of the Palestinian Au­thority government in parts of the West Bank.

Fatah and Hamas were supposed to compete in elections last year in both the West Bank and Gaza but with the rival factions disqualifying each other’s candidates, Fatah went forward with the elections in the West Bank alone in a bid to renew its legitimacy.

While Hamas did not field candi­dates under its party name, the left­ist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine called for a boycott. It said it would refuse to participate in an election while hundreds of Palestinians in Israeli jails were on a hunger strike. The prisoners began the hunger strike on April 17, de­manding better conditions.

The move was echoed by the committee of Palestinian prison­ers’ families in the Nablus district, which also called for Palestinians to boycott the municipal elections in solidarity with the hunger-striking prisoners.

“For the Palestinian president, having local elections, whether at universities or for municipal coun­cils, is proof of the democratic na­ture of the Palestinian leadership, in contrast with the undemocratic tendencies of the Hamas movement in Gaza, which has not allowed any sort of elections,” Kuttab said.