Political disputes postpone Palestinian council elections

Sunday 16/10/2016
Palestinian high court judges enter the courtroom in Ramallah on October 3rd, to announce that upcoming municipal elections will be held only in the West Bank and not in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

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.”