Aug 02 2016

Palestinian municipal polls will create movement

Published by at 9:29 am under Articles,Palestinian politics


By Daoud Kuttab

The stagnant Palestinian political waters will soon experience some movement. The French efforts to hold an international conference will kick into high gear this fall, starting with the UN General Assembly.

On the ground in Palestine, the October 8 local polls are expected to see nearly 2 million Palestinians participate in the election of the members of some 416 municipal and local village councils.

What is new this time around is that the Islamist Hamas movement has agreed to participate and its security forces in control of the besieged strip will allow Gazans to participate in the elections.

The last time the people of Gaza participated in any form of elections was in 2006 when the pro-Hamas change and reform list swept the majority of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council, a result that led to the appointment of Ismail Haniyeh as prime minister. 

In 2012, Hamas refused to allow Gazans to participate in local elections, leaving the poll to be taken only in the West Bank.

Municipal elections are not an accurate barometer of political support, although one can infer several issues from their results. 

Municipal elections are generally more about local services than national political policy. 

Refugee camps, whose residents constitute 17 per cent of the population in the West Bank and 50 per cent of the citizens in Gaza, do not hold municipal elections. 

By and large, municipal lists (especially in towns and villages) are made up of local family or tribal leaders and also often include professionals rather than political leaders. 

The results in major cities like Nablus, Hebron and Ramallah are a better indicator, although even in these elections local considerations trump all others. 

Political parties and factions often enter into agreements with local leaders to ensure success in the elections.

The situation in Gaza will be watched much more closely for a number of reasons. 

The popularity or lack thereof of the ruling powers in Gaza will be tested by the vote. 

Moreover, the split within Fateh with Gazan born Mohammad Dahlan will also be evident in the candidates that will be selected and their success based on the ballot box.

Of course, the local council vote will also be seen by many as the forerunner to possible — and long overdue — parliamentary and presidential elections.

Palestinian reconciliation agreements stipulate the need for these elections as a civilised mechanism to resolve the conflicts that have left Gaza’s population under a decades-long siege and economic, social and political stagnation.

While the upcoming local elections throughout the occupied territories (with the exception of East Jerusalem and the camps) will be an important indicator, many Palestinians are looking for the day when they can resume the long-awaited national elections and witness the revival of their parliamentary system.

President Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly assured Palestinians that he does not plan to run when the next general elections take place. 

The seventh congress of Fateh, which is supposed to usher in a new generation of leaders, has been repeatedly postponed; thus leaving the issue of post-Abbas leadership shrouded in mystery.

After a summer of violence and terror in Europe, the international community will certainly be happy to return to dealing with a relatively more sane (though intractable) conflict.

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