Jul 16 2004


Published by at 12:00 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

It seems, more and more now, that Palestinian municipal elections will take place some time this fall. This was the conclusion stated by Amal Khreisheh, one of the members of the independent elections commission.

The press in Palestine this week was full of reports about the postponement of municipal elections. Khreisheh insists that this is not the case. “No doubt was declared for us to have postponed it,” she said. The Palestinian National Authority had stated, some six months ago, that the municipal elections will take place sometime this summer, but no specific date was set and therefore there is no postponement, she insists.
Municipal elections have been one of the most talked about subjects within internal Palestinian circles. The last time Palestinians chose their mayors, council members and village councils was in 1976. At that time, the elections, held under full Israeli rule, yielded a number of leading national figures who soon thereafter created the National Guidance Committee. Since then, the Israelis and the right-wing settlers tried their best to weaken them through a campaign of deportations, assassination attempts and attempts at exclusion. By the time the PNA was established, most of the leading members elected in the West Bank (no such elections took place in Gaza) were no longer in power. The PNA quickly handpicked mayors and council members on the promise that elections will take place as soon as possible. Since those days, in the mid-90s, the implementation of the elections has waived. First, there was need for a municipal elections law. The newly elected Palestinian legislature solved this problem by passing a law in 1996, which was later signed by the president. Elections were promised thereafter, but then delays set in. At first, the PNA said that elections will need to be delayed until the Israelis carry out the redeployment. This took place under Benjamin Netanyahu. The public was promised by the then minister of local government, Saeb Erekat, that elections would take place by the end of 1998; then it was 1999 and, again, 2000. The delays kept on occurring until the current Intifada broke out, and then the situation became much worse.

When the legitimacy of the Palestinian president and the PNA started to be questioned, there was talk of elections, either presidential or legislative or municipal. The idea of elections was raised and the challenge of dealing with the issue of Palestinian leadership was presented in public statement on many occasions. Somehow, the first two types of general elections were vetoed for various reasons and we were left with the idea of municipal elections as a practical first step towards full general elections. An elections commission was created and the feeling was that at least these municipal elections were a possibility.

What made this possibility look like it could be implemented was the fact that the opposition groups (both the secular nationalists and Islamists) publicly said that they would participate in municipal elections, changing their previous position of boycotting the legislative elections which they felt were the product of the Oslo Accords. The erosion of the Oslo Accords led to the removal of many ideological problems in the Palestinian political arena and this approach seemed like a civilized way of allowing the various parties to participate in the political process.

The situation within the municipalities and villages was also a source of problems. The resignation of the mayor of Nablus, Ghassan Shaka’a, and the death of the mayor of Gaza meant that the two largest Palestinian towns were without a legitimately accepted mayor. Elections were seen as the only way to resolve many of the internal problems.

If elections will take place this fall, a revised municipal elections law will be necessary. A women quota, which has been successfully applied in the appointments for town councils, will need to be included in the legislation. Another issue that needs to be resolved is whether the elections will take place in one day or at different stages (at present, the law is that they should be held in one day). Also the feeling among many in the Palestinian government is that the mayor should be chosen from among the members of the elected council rather than directly from the public. In public statements, PNA officials have said that this would be more democratic and the mayor would be more accountable to an elected council.

Municipal elections in Palestine are way overdue. Since 1976, a new generation of Palestinians has been born and come of age. The continuation of the conflict and the Intifada should not be obstacles to the implementation of such a fundamental right of Palestinian citizens. The sooner a municipal election date is announced the better the lot of the Palestinians.

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