Fatah and Hamas reached consensus in July to hold municipal elections on October 8th. The agreement came about amid reconciliation efforts aimed at ending internal Palestinian political divisions.
Hani el-Massri, a Palestinian political analyst based in Gaza, stated that holding just and democratic local council elections is essential on many fronts. “If Fatah and Hamas are serious and consistent in their recent attempts to bring an end to the political split, the election cycle should encounter no obstacles,” Hani said.
El-Massri noted that fair representative elections were indeed held in the past, but the results were not validated by the international community, referring to the 2006 legislative elections when Hamas achieved a landslide victory but was not welcomed in leadership positions. “Respecting the results of democratically elected parties is key; otherwise it would aggravate an already aggravated situation and add to a list of unresolved internal issues.”
The Palestinian analyst believes this election cycle is the last best chance to settle the division, instead of adopting temporary stances that prolong it.
The Central Elections Commission launched an electronic registration process to update the voters’ registry and encourage eligible Palestinian youth to vote and participate in the upcoming elections. The head of the commission, Jamil el-Khaldi, said that he observed a huge registration turnout. He added that new voters in Gaza (who have never voted before) are estimated to be over 53,000 people, which constitutes 90% of those who are eligible to vote. In the West Bank, 69,000 youth have also registered.
Campaigning against one another
The two main political parties in the occupied territories, Fatah and Hamas, have each launched their own campaigns, but a hidden cold war still exists between them. Hamas has recently accused the Palestinian Authority of abducting several Hamas supporters in the West Bank as part of a conspiracy to prevent Hamas from preparing its own successful campaigns.
Aymad Daraghma, a Hamas member at the Palestinian Legislative Council in the West Bank, said that the abductions are driven by Fatah’s attempts to postpone the elections, as they are unprepared to run against Hamas. “Fatah is trying to directly intervene in the election process through constructing a pretext that the current field conditions are unfit for democratic elections to take place.”
Daraghma added that such extrajudicial abductions are the only jeopardy the elections face at the moment. These incidents are consistent with efforts to compromise Hamas’s reputation in the West Bank, regardless of the Islamic movement’s popularity outside of the Gaza Strip.
Both political factions are able to set their campaigns in motion in the Gaza Strip. The Interior Ministry of Gaza confirmed that there are no political prisoners held by Hamas in the Strip, affirming that no one should be arrested based on their political allegiances. Hamas focuses its campaigning efforts on emphasizing social services the organization has provided in the past, such as healthcare services, transportation, water regulation, and educational facilities. On the contrast, some of Fatah’s campaigns aim to draw attention to aspects Hamas still struggles to advance, including the drastic rise of unemployment rates, and the ongoing power outages in the Strip.
Fatah and Hamas began their internal talks and negotiations to line up the names of those who will run for municipality positions. There are 425 municipalities in Palestine: 400 in the West Bank, and 25 in the Gaza Strip.
Lack of hope
Some Fatah members have testified to the challenges the fragmented movement has been facing to reach a unified list of electors. Fatah has encountered many obstacles between its conflicting leaders, followers and adherents.
Sufian Abu Zaidah, one of Fatah’s leaders in Gaza, revealed that the movement was not prepared to participate in the elections as it lacks fundamental consensus among its leaders on many pressing issues. “Fatah’s current state of affairs paves the way for Hamas to score an effortless victory. The old rift between Mahmoud Abbas and the notable leader Mohammed Dahlan has deeply weakened our party’s foundation,” Abu Zaidah said.
For hundred of thousands of Palestinian citizens, this will be the first chance to exercise their lawful rights to vote on their homeland, but the ongoing turmoil has frustrated and discouraged many to a state of despair.
Iehab Alwan, 20, chose to participate in the elections to experience the act of voting, but without any genuine conviction in the process. “I just want to go to the polling centers and put my paper in the ballot box, that’s it. I feel that our current situation is far more complicated to be resolved in holding internal elections,” Alwan said.
For Amal el-Hello, the political bickering between parties has left the election process devoid of content and purpose, which in its essence should aim to advance the quality of social services provided for local citizenry, and work to seize corruption and political gain on the expense of Palestinians.
“The way political leaders deal with arising disputes discourages us to vote,” el-Hello said. She has obtained a bachelor’s degree in engineering five years ago, but still has not been able to obtain a stable job. Amal no longer believes that any political party will solve the devastating unemployment, and therefore does not see why she would help them go far in their games by giving them her vote.