Municipal election fever hits West Bank

Election fever has hit most Palestinian cities. However, planed for October 20 are only municipal elections, and only in most West Bank cities (Jerusalemites are not allowed to participate); the Islamic movement will boycott them.

The last time Palestine witnessed elections was in 2006, when pro-Hamas candidates swept the parliamentary poll. A year earlier, pro-Hamas lists won many seats in West Bank and Gaza municipal elections.

Local elections had been scheduled for July 17, 2010, for the entire Palestinian areas. However, the Central Election Commission was unable to operate in the Gaza Strip, resulting in the Palestinian government announcing, on April 25, that the elections would be postponed in the strip. As a result of the cancellation, several lawsuits were filed against the government.

On December 13, 2010, the Palestinian high court ruled that cancelling the elections was illegal. The Palestinian government subsequently announced that local elections would be held in 2011.

They were originally scheduled for July 9, in the hope that the reconciliation process would allow Gazans to participate. Failure to reach an agreement led, in August 2011, to decide to postpone elections, again.

On July 10, the Central Elections Commission finally received the decision of the Palestinian Cabinet to hold the elections nationwide on October 20, 2012.

The rejection of the government in Gaza and of the Hamas supporters means that the elections are being held only in most West Bank cities and without the participation of Hamas candidates. Some Islamists are participating as independent candidates.

Elections are always a barometer of public sentiment; however, the upcoming elections will be evaluated more for the strength of the ruling Fateh movement than its relative weight against the Islamic movement.

As far as Fateh is concerned, it is again being tested for its internal discipline, which is the basic problem that caused it to lose the 2006 elections.

Fateh lists are running throughout the West Bank. Fateh central leadership has warned all to withdraw or risk losing their membership in the movement. Few have adhered, knowing that if they win, Fateh will eventually reconcile with them.

Secretary general of Fateh Revolutionary Council Amin Maqbou told the Maan news agency that the Fateh movement’s executive committee discharged 18 senior officials for running in local elections outside of Fateh lists.

Perhaps the most obvious dissent is in the second largest Palestinian city (after Jerusalem) of Nablus. Ghassan Shakaa, the former mayor and member of the PLO’s executive committee, is running independently from the official Istiklal wa tanmia (Independent and Development) Fateh list.

In Hebron, there is confusion and apathy; competition lacks because of the absence of any officially sanctioned Islamic list. The pro-Fateh list, headed by Daoud Izzer, is expected to win easily.

In nearby Dahriyeh, the local community agreed on a unified list and will therefore not witness any competition.

Dissent is also being felt in Bethlehem, where Fateh is supporting a list headed by a previously unknown university professor, Vera Baboun. At least three other lists are headed by individuals that have been previously aligned with the mainstream PLO Fateh movement.

Baboun, a widow and mother of five children, is active; she is being challenged by long-time political activists who have a long experience in political and municipal affairs and who are generally politically aligned with the main stream PLO.

Left-wing groups have united in a number of localities, most prominently the Beit Jala municipality, which features a coalition representing various parties and factions that have been connected with factions such as PFL, DFLP and former communists.

Holding elections at this politically uncertain time is a boost for the Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who seems to have survived last month’s protests and will most likely survive the expected departure of the Palestinian leader.

The underlying meaning of the potential success of the local elections is that economic and local issues are taking precedence over national and political issues.