Political disputes postpone Palestinian council elections
Ramallah - Palestinian municipal councillors in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip who had stepped down ahead of local elections scheduled for early October returned to work after the government postponed the vote for six months.
The Central Elections Commission (CEC) advised Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to delay the vote after the Palestinian high court ruled that the elections should go forward in the West Bank, controlled by Abbas’s Fatah party, but not in the Gaza Strip, which is run by the Islamist group Hamas.
The local elections, although less politically decisive than legislative and presidential elections, generated regional interest when Hamas agreed to participate in the polls. It would have been the first time since 2006 the Palestinians had an election in which both Hamas and Fatah took part.
The cabinet decided that local councils should resume duties until elections are complete, a spokesman said.
The decision came after months of preparations and deliberations between Palestinian factions in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Authority and the CEC to facilitate elections last held four years ago. Hamas did not participate in that vote.
Hamas said it would take part in this year’s elections to refute allegations that the movement sought to monopolise power in Gaza. Despite fears by many Palestinians that one faction would foil the elections, the participation and cooperation of Hamas was seen as a positive sign.
Fareed Taamallah, media coordinator at the CEC, said the commission met with all factions in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and signed a code of conduct, signalling their approval of the committee’s decisions, including the implicit cooperation with Hamas in Gaza.
The CEC received 163 objections to the electoral lists in the West Bank and Gaza, he said. The committee rejected 156 of the appeals and approved seven.
Fatah supporters accused Hamas of attempting to sabotage the elections with its objections and prevent Fatah from participating in Gaza.
After much legal wrangling, the Supreme Court on October 3rd announced the elections could take place in the West Bank only and not the Gaza Strip. The date was to be within one month.
Many Fatah supporters were quick to laud the court’s decision, describing it as a victory. Some Fatah officials accused Hamas of trying to use the elections to maintain the division of power between Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza, which has existed since the 2006 election and near civil war between the two factions a year later.
“Hamas holds full responsibility for crippling the democratic process by interfering in the elections, submitting illegal objections and referring to illegal courts,” said Mohammad Shtayyeh, a member of the Fatah Central Committee.
Hamas said Fatah sought to avoid the elections out of fear of losing.
The CEC recommended postponing the elections for six months as “such decision will further deepen the internal division between the West Bank and Gaza strip and harm the public interest and the democratic process in Palestine.”
Taamallah said the CEC had two options: Have the elections in the West Bank only or to postpone the polls.
While Hamas and Fatah continue to blame each other, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza questioned the court’s decision and whether the two sides were really interested in reconciliation.
According to a poll conducted by Vision for Political Development, 67% of those surveyed said they opposed the decision to postpone the elections and 61% said Fatah supported it due to fear of internal division.
Meanwhile, 40% of respondents said Fatah made the decision to hinder the elections when Hamas announced it was participating.
Some political analysts weighed in saying the court’s ruling was politically motivated. Others suggested that Fatah might have feared losing the elections amid growing confusion and tension within the movement as well as its loss of support on the national level.
West Bank political analyst Adel Samara said it was possible that Fatah decided to postpone the elections until the Fatah conference is held to allow time to review internal affairs and return stronger.
“I believe that local elections should be held by the people without any political interference, but I think if elections did take place, it could have resulted in more complications,” he said.
There is a shared belief among Palestinians that with the absence of peace on the national and social level, it is not the best time to have elections.
“How can elections be held in a fragmented country, where the legislation in Gaza is different from that in the West Bank?”, Samara asked. “While postponing the elections might have contained the issue, it doesn’t solve it.”