Tuesday,12 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1304, (21 - 27 July 2016)
Tuesday,12 December, 2017
Issue 1304, (21 - 27 July 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Palestinian local elections: A way out of division?

The scheduling of Palestinian local elections for October has gained wide support, though Hamas has yet to formally announce its participation, writes Ahmed Al-Sayed in Gaza

Abbas
Abbas
Al-Ahram Weekly

With the political settlement process and the Israeli occupation at a standstill, the Palestinian accord government called for local elections in October. Hamas subsequently agreed to hold the elections in the Gaza Strip, raising Palestinian hopes of a reorganisation of the Palestinian house and an end to sharp divisions that have prevailed since 2007.

The Palestinian cabinet on 21 June set the date for elections to municipal councils in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for 8 October, and tasked the Central Elections Commission to begin preparations necessary to hold them on the scheduled date.

On Friday, Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, agreed to hold elections in Gaza, announcing it would work to facilitate measures to serve the interest of the Palestinian people and provide guarantees for honesty and equal opportunity.

Thus far, six Palestinian factions have officially announced their participation in the poll: Fatah, led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), the Palestinian People’s Party (PPP), the Palestinian Democratic Union (FIDA), and the Palestinian National Initiative (PNI).

In the wake of the bloody conflict between Fatah and Hamas in mid-2007, Hamas imposed its control of the Gaza Strip by force, while the Palestinian Authority, led by Fatah, continued to administer the West Bank. The last municipal elections were held in Palestine in 2012. Covering only the West Bank, Hamas refused to participate in them.

Both nationalist and Islamist Palestinian forces affirm the need to hold elections on the appointed date and to put in place guarantees for the integrity of the poll, both in the West Bank and Gaza. Both camps recognise the need for strict oversight, to prevent any political body from undermining the credibility of elections.

Palestinian factions expressed hope that a consensus on elections would pave the way for a consensus on general elections, including presidential and legislative, and elections for the Palestinian National Council (PNC, the parliament of the Palestine Liberation Organisation). This, in turn, could promise an end to divisions and the return of national unity.

Hamas affirmed the need and importance of holding local elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and renewing the composition of municipalities based on free, popular will expressed at the ballot box, which would help develop and improve services offered to the Palestinian people.

In a press statement, Hamas said that the step “comes based on its desire to clean the Palestinian house, cement the principle of participation, and bear its national responsibility in this critical stage for the Palestinian people and their national cause”.

Hamas noted the importance of the Palestinian democratic process, in presidential and legislative elections and PNC elections.

Although Hamas did not declare its explicit intention to take part in the local elections, sources in the movement told the press that it is leaning toward participation after receiving positive feedback from Fatah on some observations it made. The sources said this stance is not political, but is based on societal demands.

The sources said that Palestinian factions had drafted a code of ethics to ensure the success and integrity of elections. It was presented to both Fatah and Hamas for approval.

Last month, Hamas said it viewed local elections “positively,” but it raised several questions about the process in a meeting with Palestinian factions in Gaza “in order to shore up the electoral process and guarantee its success, so it can be a step out of division instead of cementing it”.

Hamas leader and MP Yehia Moussa said that movement had raised questions about the elections. “Will the Palestinian government abide by the results, engage with elected municipal councils, and help to fund them?” he asked. “Or will they classify them based on the outcome and we go back to point zero?”

Moussa added: “If the elections take place, is there a consensus among the judicial body that will rule on challenges? If appeals are filed with the courts in the Gaza Strip and they rule, will the judiciary recognise it, or do they only recognise one judiciary?”

Moussa said there were other questions about guarantees for freedom to campaign, transparency, and justice.

Palestinian analysts believe that since Palestinian factions agreed to take part in local elections there is common ground for the democratic process that brings everyone together. This will give the people hope and will inject democracy with new vigour.

Analysts believe that Hamas agreed to participate in the elections based on careful study and after its institutions discussed and debated the idea. They say the movement bet it would succeed in the elections based on several factors, most importantly the current state of disarray in Fatah, its strongest competitor. It also bet on its own internal cohesion as a young, cohesive organisation able to direct its people well and not subject to internal divisions, especially on issues like elections.

Writer and political analyst Hossam Dajani said that Hamas’s stance on elections was positive and would help alleviate much of the pressure on it in light of the refusal of many bodies to deal with the Gaza Strip because of the movement’s presence.

Dajani said that Fatah, led by President Abbas, would face difficult challenges in the coming municipal elections, especially in the Gaza Strip, given its internal divisions and organisational conflict within Fatah.

Fatah has seen a bitter struggle between two main currents, the first led by Abbas and the second by MP and expelled Fatah leader Mohamed Dahlan, for control over actions in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Although he was expelled from Fatah in mid-2011, Dahlan — currently residing in the UAE — still enjoys influence among Fatah leaders and cadres in Gaza.

As part of preparations for local elections, the chair of the Central Elections Commission, Hanna Nasser, arrived in the Gaza Strip Sunday at the head of a commission delegation. Coming through the Israeli-controlled Erez border crossing, Nasser met with deputy head of the Hamas politburo Ismail Haniyeh and representatives of factions and civil society institutions.

At a press conference in Gaza after meeting with a Hamas delegation headed by Haniyeh, Nasser said: “We received adequate assurances from all bodies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that the outcome will be respected in any place where there are elections.”

He added: “We hope that these elections, like previous ones, will be clean and impartial and represent the will of the people. We hope they will offer hope for the convening of parliamentary and presidential elections.”

Noting that there will be local and foreign oversight of elections, Nasser said: “We will invite oversight from inside the country, from among participants and faction representatives, and oversight from abroad, so we can ensure a good reputation for the election results in the world.”

Nasser said that the security apparatus overseen by Hamas in the Gaza Strip would be responsible for protecting the elections in Gaza.

Hamas leader Khalil Al-Hayya said during the press conference: “We in Hamas will work with all our capacities to make the elections succeed and to facilitate the electoral process in Gaza and the West Bank.”

Al-Hayya added: “Factions must redouble efforts to ensure the success of the new democratic wedding, so that local elections can help strengthen partnership and the Palestinian national consensus.”

He continued: “We hope that the local elections are a prelude to ending division and reaching a true partnership to hold legislative, presidential, and National Council elections.”

Amid popular discontent in the Gaza Strip with both Fatah and Hamas due to division, local elections present a golden opportunity to the Palestinian left, which has said it will participate with unified lists that bring together the most professional, progressive and patriotic figures.

In a press statement following a meeting in Gaza, five democratic forces in the Gaza Strip said: “The Palestinian government’s decision to hold elections for municipal bodies in October is a sound, necessary step. It comes in response to demands by democratic forces to care for citizens’ affairs and improve the services offered to them.”

The five forces are the DFLP, PFLP, the PPP, FIDA, and the PNI. They asked Hamas to facilitate elections in the Gaza Strip in concert with the West Bank under the supervision of the Central Elections Commission and in accordance with the old electoral system of full proportional representation, in order to guarantee fair representation for all forces and figures taking part in elections.

The leftist forces also stressed the need to limit the impact of Palestinian divisions on election outcomes and to end security interference and the electoral influence of political campaign funds in Gaza and the West Bank, to guarantee fair, clean elections in which citizens will choose representatives who will oversee their immediate daily affairs.

The leftist forces said they hoped municipal elections would be successful, as a crucial step toward presidential, legislative, and PNC elections on the basis of proportional representation, the cleaning of the Palestinian house, and a recovery from the crises that have come to threaten the entire Palestinian national project.

 

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