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Palestinian high court cancels municipal elections

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Upcoming municipal elections in the West Bank and Gaza were cancelled yesterday by a Palestinian high court in Ramallah, after ruling in favor of a lawyers guild’s petition to strike down the race because East Jerusalem Palestinians were not eligible to cast ballots, or compete for seats in the government.

Although the decision was said to have been made over a procedural technicality, some speculated political motives from members of the West Bank-based Fatah, who are viewed as controlling the Palestinian judiciary, were at play.

Hamas official Salah Bardawil told the Gaza-based outlet Shebab News Agency the court ruling is meant to prevent a Fatah loss at the polls, by any means.

“The Fatah movement proceeded to cancel the elections after it realized that they are not able to face the reality of the ballot box,” Bardawil said, adding, “We in Hamas categorically reject the decision of the High Court of Justice in Ramallah, which halted the electoral process after intervention from Fatah.”

The move came after a Hamas court invalidated the candidacy of five Fatah members in Gaza. The squabble over campaigns in this one district has broad implications for the Palestinian Authority, who do not acknowledge Hamas institutions. By moving forward with the elections, without the Fatah candidates in Gaza, the Palestinian Authority would be conceding to the reach of the Hamas court.

Head of the Palestine National Initiative Mustafa Barghouti explained the background to the decision is constant tensions between Fatah and Hamas, and Ramallah’s aversion to de facto recognition of their Gaza-based rival.

“We are against this decision, we think it’s a violation against the democratic rights of the people. If there is a local problem, such as in Gaza, it should be handled on a local level and not taken to canceling the whole of the elections,” Barghouti said.

“I think they used that decision to justify the suspension of the whole elections, which I think is wrong,” he added.

A hearing to reverse the court’s cancellation of elections is scheduled for September 21, 2016 in Ramallah.

Elections were announced earlier this summer and were slated for October 8, 2016. While local elections in most countries determine regional affairs, for the occupied Palestinian territory the promise of voting was a much desired injection of democracy.

All Palestinians factions have not participated in a single election since 2005. Nor has voting occurred in all areas of the patchwork of where Palestinians reside in the occupied territory. The results of that 2005 election caused a calamity for the Palestinian government, dividing it in two. Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip and Fatah remained at the helm of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

In 2012 municipal elections were held in the West Bank, but not in Gaza as Hamas boycotted.

Since then tensions have remained high between the parties, despite repeated attempts to forge a national consensus government to restore administrative unity.  The announcement of local elections earlier this summer was applauded as a renewed foray to find some common ground.

Mohammed Asad contributed reporting from Gaza.

Allison Deger
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