The municipal elections in the West Bank (WB) have not carried any positive indicators of free transparent political elections, representative of all Palestinian forces in the WB and the Gaza Strip (GS). Rather, they have embedded negative implications after being boycotted by Hamas and some other resistance forces. Local elections were held in the absence of genuine competition. It seems that Fatah would not be able to win the political elections especially with the participation of esteemed independent figures.
There might have been no surge in support for Hamas in the WB. Yet, Fatah has not learned the lessons from the 2006 elections and proceeded with its old policy that has cost the movement dearly. Thus, it is not likely for the ‘Abbas-led PA to continue with marketing elections as a way to overcome the division. Elections would not be attacked, yet the calls to hold these elections would ease gradually.
The PA conducted local councils elections on 20/10/2012 in the WB yet not in GS due to the state of division witnessed on the Palestinian arena. The elections were held in 93 electoral bodies, and 179 lists won uncontested due to the absence of competition. Some bodies did not participate in the elections because of internal problems.
Local elections reminded observers of elections during the Jordanian period when voters were highly busy with personal and family competitions with little concern about public issues that would affect their life. Election day was highly characterized by a traditional atmosphere imposed by Arab political regimes. Thus, there was absence of political platforms or professional competencies opposed to a remarkable presence of the family, the tribe, and competition among local leaders.
The following points summarize the general atmosphere that prevailed on election day:
1. Lack of democratic environment due to the boycott of elections by the Palestinian opposition, namely Hamas. The political conditions in the WB prevent the participation of Hamas or the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) whose members are chased by the PA security forces that would arrest any candidate from either side. This was the policy in the WB upon the elections of the student councils where Hamas and PIJ followers were targeted by the PA forces, and sometimes by the administrations of universities, who are loyal to the PA. The PA said that the elections were democratic, yet it needed to prove such a claim.
2. Absence of competitive electoral platforms with strategic dimensions aimed at achieving rural and urban development. Instead, shallow programs void of any systematic competition were presented mainly to polish the image of the elections.
3. The prevalence of the family and the clan as a major and vital component of the WB social fabric, at the expense of the broader community. The elections constituted a retreat to the Jordanian era when the family was a vital component of political stability. This largely explains the uncontested success of most electoral bodies, as electoral alliances were tailored to guarantee the representation of every family according to specific factors.
4. The absence of nationalistic slogans and the resort to those void of any meaningful content. The Palestinian voter did not hear any slogans opposing the Israeli occupation. Nor did he read plans to get rid of Israeli restrictions that hinder any improvement in their lives especially those pertaining to water and electricity supply.
5. The low turnout that reached around 54%. This percentage is high when compared to current international standards. However, it is low when we consider the low level of participation in cities and the high participation in villages. This means that the latter has contributed to raising the turnout as elections in villages were largely family based. Ultimately, it was proved that families in Palestine are abler than political factions in mobilizing voters.
6. Various parties, mainly Fatah, relied on family alliances to win the elections. This explains the absence of purely factional lists as factions became a tool of families.
Fatah stated to different media outlets that it has won the elections; and according to its figures, it has garnered more than 50% of the votes in local councils, a figure that demonstrates the wide popularity it enjoys. Fatah officials reiterated that the movement would win the legislative and presidential elections should they be conducted in the WB and GS. According to Fatah, those who oppose its for ending the state of division are afraid of defeat. This proposal is summarized in the recourse to legislative and presidential elections in which people would decide whom they want to represent or lead them.
Yet, aside from what has been said in the media, Fatah and the PA ensuing from it have to consider a number of core points:
1. Legislative and presidential elections should be democratic and open the way for the opposition to compete freely and without censorship or persuit by security forces. Then, Fatah would comply with democratic standards regarding candidates, platforms, and lists.
2. Based on the total turnout, and the percentage of votes obtained by the winning lists, it is not very likely for Fatah to win the majority of legislative seats. Moreover, its chances to win the presidential elections are not especially if the opposition succeeded in choosing the proper candidates. That’s because the participation in local elections in big cities, such as Nablus, Hebron and Tulkarm, was low, which implies that large cities are not inclined to voting for Fatah. Voting for Fatah in villages is also questioned due to the overlapping trends and calculations that would determine families’ voting pattern.
3. The family spirit that governed local elections might be temporary due to the political flaccidity prevailing in the WB. It is likely that this spirit assumes its normal position if political competitive atmosphere prevailed and overcame this spirit. Family spirit is estimated to have prevailed over 30% of votes in the 1996 elections, knowing that there was no competition back then, as the opposition did not participate in the elections. It is also possible for this percentage to decrease if competitive elections were held on political and national basis, taking into consideration that family spirit is not always inclined towards Fatah, where some families voted for Hamas in the 2006 elections.
4. It is difficult for Fatah to participate in the political elections with persuasive political and national slogans, because the PA has failed in presenting any achievements related to the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. The negotiations led by Fatah are doomed to failure, corruption is still intact although it is less visible, and salaries are subject to consecutive shakes while dependence on the foreigner is on the rise. Accordingly, the PA’s failure affects Fatah movement and undermines its chances to win the elections.
5. Division and fighting had a negative impact on all Palestinian factions, especially Fatah and Hamas. The two factions have lost some of the support they used to enjoy and it is important for each side to assess the chances of its success in the political elections.
6. Fatah needs to find more educated figures who are more capable of reaching out to the public to run for political elections; otherwise, it will have to pay for repeating its mistakes.
Al-Zaytouna Centre thanks Professor Abdul Salam Qassim for authoring the original text on which this Strategic Assessment was based.