With six weeks left until the 25 January Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections and a 14 December 2005 midnight deadline (5 p.m. EST today) to register candidates, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fateh party is now competing for the 132-member legislature not only with the Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas, but with another Fateh slate of candidates. This new development is a result of the fragmentation within Fateh, which was exacerbated by scenes of some of its armed members disrupting the party’s primaries and storming the offices of the Central Elections Committee(CEC), as well as by Abbas’ cancellation of some primary results and the creation of a Fateh slate based not solely on primary election results.
Two separate polls were conducted by the Jerusalem Media & Communication Center (JMCC) between December 5-9 and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) between December 6-8, which reveal that a majority of Palestinians plan to vote for Fateh. However, the split within the party may hurt its overall results.
Both polls found that a majority of Palestinians plan to vote: 78 percent according to the PCPSR poll and 68 percent according to the JMCC poll. Poverty and unemployment are the main concerns for Palestinians, according to the PCRSP poll. Israel’s continued occupation of the Palestinian Territory is ranked the number two concern in the West Bank and the fourth highest in the Gaza Strip. Internal anarchy and chaos ranked third on the PCRSP poll (12 percent). The PCRSP poll surveyed 1,316 people; the JMCC poll 1,119. Both polls have a 3 percent margin of error.
According to PCRSP, 50 percent of those planning to vote said they will select Fateh; 32 percent indicated they will vote for Hamas; 9 percent said they will choose other groups, including independents; and 9 percent remain undecided.
The JMCC poll found that 60 percent plan to vote for the PLO–”that is, Fateh’s–”platform. Seventy-three percent described Hamas’ decision to participate in the election as positive step. Sixty-one percent believe that Hamas will abide by the decisions of the majority in the PLC. When asked which method they preferred for choosing Fateh candidates, 45.5 percent wanted to select candidates through primaries, meaning from within the bases of the party, while 29.7 percent said Fatah’s Central Committee, headed by Abbas, should select the candidates.
The Electoral System
On 25 January 2006, the 1.3 registered voters will cast two different kinds of ballots–”a district and a national ballot. At the district level, Palestinians will vote for individuals according to the number of seats allocated for each district. At the national level, voters will indicate their preference among the competing political slates.
There are sixteen districts with the following seat allocations: Jerusalem (six seats, two reserved for Christians); Ramallah (five seats, one reserved for Christians); Bethlehem (four seats, two reserved for Christians); Hebron (nine seats); Gaza City (eight seats, one reserved for Christians); Northern Gaza (five seats); Nablus (six seats); Qalqilya (two seats); Tulkarem (three seats); Jenin (four seats); KhanYounis (five seats); Rafah (three seats); Deir al-Balah (three seats); Jericho (one seat); Salfit (one seat); and Tubas (one seat). The sixty-six seats will be determined by a simple majority vote of the district level.
According to Dr. Khalil Shikaki, head of the PCRSP, Fateh is highly vulnerable in four districts, three of which have the highest number of seats: Gaza City, Hebron, Nablus, and Qalqilya. Hebron, as the most conservative city, will likely be won by Hamas. Gaza City has been the most critical of corruption within the Palestinian Authority (PA), and Nablus has seen the greatest level of Fateh’s fragmentation.
Competing Slates at the National Level
Seven political slates of candidates have registered to date. At the eleventh hour, members of the official Fateh slate replaced Prime Minister Ahmad Qurai as its head with the popular leader Marwan Barghouthi, currently imprisoned in Israel. However, Barghouthi, along with a number of Fateh’s “young guards,” is also running as the head of the “Future” slate. Barghouthi’s associates called the move by the official Fateh slate a “bargaining chip.”
Along with Fateh and Future, five other slates are competing: the Freedom slate, headed by former Finance Minister Salam Fayyad, which includes Dr. Hanan Ashrawi and the Geneva Initiative architect Yasser Abed Rabbo; the Alternative slate, headed by DFLP Secretary-General Qais Abdel Karim and made up of a coalition of the Palestinian People’s Party, the Democratic Front for the Liberation (DFLP) of Palestine, and the DFLP’s offshoot Fida; the National Initiative slate, headed by Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi (unrelated to Marwan Barghouthi); the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s slate, headed by its Secretary General Ahmad Saadat, who is in a PA-controlled jail in Jericho; and the Hamas slate, headed by Ismail Hanyieh. The remaining 66 seats will be determined according to the percentage of votes received by each slate.
Marwan Barghouthi’s associates say the decision to create a second Fateh slate, Future, was due to dismay at Abbas’ decision to cancel some primary results and his placement of candidates who lost in the primaries on Fateh’s national slate. Barghouthi was also unhappy that the “young guards” who won the primaries were told to compete on the district level, making their success more difficult.
What Does This Mean?
The fragmentation within Fateh may have a negative affect on its performance in the upcoming election. With polls revealing that Palestinian want an end to anarchy and chaos, Fateh’s internal deterioration could sway the undecided votes away from Fateh.
A possible indicator for how badly Fateh has been damaged by the recent events will be the results of the 15 December 2005 third-phase municipal elections, which will be held in 42 districts.