Daoud Kuttab
Last updated: 18 October, 2012

Daoud Kuttab: “Holding elections at this politically uncertain time is a boost for the Palestinian prime minister”

“Left wing groups have united in a number of localities,” writes Daoud Kuttab, a former professor of journalism at Princeton University, and General Manager of the Community Media Network in Amman in this election comment.

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

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 West Bank and Gaza municipal elections.

Palestinian local elections had originally been scheduled for 17 July 2010 for the entire Palestinian areas. However, the Central Election Commission was unable to operate in Gaza Strip, resulting in the Palestinian government announcing on 25 April of that year that the elections would be postponed in the Strip. As a result of the cancellation, several lawsuits were filed against the government. On 13 December 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  9 July, with the hope that the reconciliation process would allow Gazans to participate. The failure to reach any agreement led to a decision in August 2011, they were postponed.

The Central Elections Commission finally received the decision of the Palestinian cabinet on July 10th to hold the elections nationwide on October 20, 2012. The rejection of the government in Gaza as well as Hamas supporters meant that the elections is being held only in most West Bank cities and without the participation of clearly declared Hamas candidates although some Islamists are participating as independent candidates.

Elections are always a barometer of public sentiment; however, the upcoming elections will no doubt be evaluated more for the strength of the ruling Fatah movement than its relative weight against the Islamic movement.

As far as Fatah is concerned it is again being tested for its internal discipline which is the basic problem that caused it to lose the 2006 elections. While Fatah slates are running throughout the West Bank, a number of lists made up of Fatah symbols are running in small and large localities. Fatah central leadership has warned all to withdraw or risk losing their membership in the movement, few have adhered knowing that if they win, Fatah will eventually reconcile with them. Secretary general of Fatah Revolutionary Council Amin Maqbou told the Maan news agency that, the Fatah movement’s executive committee discharged 18 senior officials for running in local elections outside of Fatah lists.

Perhaps the most obvious dissention 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) Fatah list.

In Hebron there is a mix of confusion and apathy as the level of competition seems to be rather lack luster because of the absence of any officially sanctioned Islamic list. The pro Fatah 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 competion.

Dissention however, is also being felt in Bethlehem where Fatah 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 Fatah movement.

While all lists are obliged to have at least three women on their list, the list officially supported by Fatah in the Bethlehem municipality is headed by a woman. Baboun a widow and mother of five children is active is social and community issues 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 precedent over national and political issues.

This article was published with permission from Daoud Kuttab. His blog can be found here, or follow him on Twitter @daoudkuttab.