By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
Thirty-six electoral lists were formally submitted to the Independent Palestinian Central Elections Commission (CEC), where the “official” Fatah movement was the last one to present its candidates in the last hour before closing the registration records.
More than twenty non-partisan independent lists were submitted to CEC, reflecting some vitality perhaps in the Palestinian political circles; but at the same time, the distrust and frustration of a significant sector of independents with the performance of Palestinian factions. It also reflects the “fragmentation” of the independents themselves, the lists of most whom failed to pass the qualifying threshold that allows them to receive a number of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). Many of the prominent figures and symbols, who have their respect and stature, have formed independent lists, yet their odds of winning are not good. However, this large number of independent lists may disperse a considerable number of votes, hence weaken the ability of the main lists to garner the votes of hesitant people in their favor.
These elections have deepened the internal crisis of Fatah, which, on its behalf, three electoral lists were submitted. The formation of the “official” list itself (representing the central leadership of Fatah) witnessed a difficult labor, where the movement was forced to withdraw its nomination of members of the Central Committee, Revolutionary Council or conservatives. Its final list (as per circulating news) includes now five members of the Central Committee: Jibril Rajoub, Mahmud al-‘Aloul, Rawhi Fattouh, Ahmad Hillis and Dalal Salameh. This indicates that the Fatah leadership realizes the serious challenge facing the list and the need to support it with well-known figures.
Notwithstanding these selections, protests occurred in a number of areas, such as Jenin and Qalandia, while some candidates withdrew their candidacy in protest that their names were placed last in order, and that they were considered part of the decor that has no chance of winning according to the proportional representation system. This may dampen the enthusiasm for elections and weaken the publicity of the official list. Many indignant votes may go to the list of Nasser al-Kidwa, Marwan Barghouti and even Muhammad Dahlan, and some may retract from participating.
The Fatah scene got complicated when the member of the Fatah Central Committee, Nasser al-Kidwa, insisted on forming his electoral list, even after he was expelled from Fatah’s leadership. His list includes a number of educated, independent and even opposed to the Oslo Accords prominent figures. It was strengthened when it was joined by the supporters of the great Fatah symbol, Marwan Barghouti (Without himself being a PLC candidate). According to initial opinion polls, this list would comfortably pass the qualifying threshold and garner about 13 seats.
As for Dahlan and his Democratic Reform Bloc, they prepared very well. He used his influence and “political money” to attract many Fatah members, especially in the Gaza Strip (GS). Opinion polls show that he will get 6% of the votes or about 8 seats.
Fatah’s internal division may have contributed to the fact that Fatah votes would eventually stay within the Fatah “tribe” or go to its broader movement, and not go to its opponents or competitors. Furthermore, the Fatah historical experience has indicated that its factions agree on its core program, and that they may unite in the PLC when encountering important milestones. This may apply, to one degree or another, to the lists of al-Kidwa and Barghouti, but it is unlikely for Dahlan’s list.
As for the Palestinian left-wing, it is fragmented and the efforts have failed to unite it in a single list. Thus, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) has formed its own list, and so did the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), and the Palestinian People’s Party (PPP) with the Palestine Democratic Union (FIDA). The PFLP’s list may pass the qualifying threshold, while the other two have real difficulties to pass it.
Concerning the list of the Palestinian National Initiative (PNI) led by Mustafa Barghouti and the list of Salam Fayyad, they have managed to pass the threshold in the 2006 elections. However, in the current elections, they face real difficulties in doing so.
Initially, the Hamas movement has witnessed wide internal discussions and objections from a number of its cadres on the course of the elections. Nevertheless, its strong institutional and consultative structure has enabled it to deal flexibly with its internal environment, which eventually stood united behind the decision to actively participate in the elections. Consequently, it faced no difficulties in presenting its electoral list and getting the support of its ranks. “Jerusalem unites us” is the slogan of the list, which includes distinguished symbols, prisoners’ leaders and media and political figures.
It is too early to talk about the expected results of the elections (if they took place). The Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, headed by Khalil Shikaki, stated that the “public attitudes seem to shift a little in favor of Fatah and away from Hamas.” However, these impressions are difficult to rely on, because we still have two months ahead, in which many changes may occur, and it is not clear to what extent will the lists of al-Kidwa and Barghouti influence Fatah and the peace process supporters. It is noted that no less than 20% of the public are still undecided, and that in 2006, survey centers failed to provide accurate predictions, and experienced high error rates.
In addition, the boycott of the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine (PIJ) of the PLC elections may push its ranks and many supporters to cast their votes in favor of the Hamas list. Moreover, the large number of independent lists and the difficulty of passing the qualifying threshold, might push many resistance supporters voters to vote for the Hamas list. For it is considered the most prominent party representing the resistance.
Concerning expectations, these elections should not be compared to the 2006 elections. For the internal political environment, the Israeli, Arab and international conditions, and the Palestinian accumulated collective consciousness concerning the Hamas and Fatah 15-year experiences, provide different indicators, not similar to those of 2006. In addition, more than one million of Palestinian youth in the West Bank (WB) and GS, aged 18 to 30 years, are eligible to vote, constituting 40% of voters. They did not participate in the 2006 elections, and perhaps a number of their standards, aspirations and viewpoints do not coincide with those of the previous generations. However, we do realize that the voters will actually remain divided between the peace settlement and resistance camps.
Previous efforts by Hamas and Fatah did not succeed in reaching a joint national list. For its formation found objections within the factions themselves and among independents. Also, neither the resistance nor pro-peace settlement movements has succeeded in forming a single list that supports its course. Matters ended up by returning to square one, with each faction forming its own list. These conditions may increase tension surrounding the elections, hence there are increasing concerns about the current Palestinian consensus, fears of not proceeding to the next electoral stages, and also apprehension that the results would deepen the schism.
Due to the internal crisis of Fatah and its declining performance, concerns have increased in the Fatah circles that the elections will “re-legitimize” Hamas and the resistance movement and that Hamas would achieve big wins. These concerns intersect with the Israeli, Arab and international conviction that pressure must be exerted to cut off the possibility of the resistance movements achieving a new electoral victory. All of these sides deal with the elections with the intention of “legitimizing” the peace process, and removing the resistance and “political Islam” from the equation. In this context, it becomes possible to explain the Israeli arrest campaigns of Hamas figures in WB, why the Israelis oppose holding the elections in Jerusalem, and the continuous Arab and international pressures to postpone the elections. In addition, there are unconfirmed reports that President ‘Abbas has sent two of his advisers to the United States to discuss the possibility of postponing the elections.
Furthermore, the slow or stalled process related to the elections of the Palestinian National Council, and the unseriousness of the Palestinian leadership in holding them are further indicators in this context.
It is noted that the fully proportional electoral system is reassuring to ‘Abbas, because it guarantees that Hamas loses its absolute half-plus-one majority in the PLC. Also, the chances for the other pro-resistance factions to win seem slim, except for the PFLP, moreover, the lists of the anti-Oslo independents are fragmentated and their chances to pass the threshold are rather low. This may provide the “official” Fatah —after the elections are over—with a better chance to bring the “naughty” group, led by al-Kidwa and Barghouti, back within Fatah ranks. For it happened with another Fatah “naughty” group in 1996. These sides also agree with the Dahlan movement concerning the peace process, hence they are all considered within the general system of the Fatah “tribe.”
Moreover, the Israeli ban on elections in Jerusalem may provide ‘Abbas with an excuse to postpone the elections, if he felt that there are real risks of loss, and as there is mounting pressure on him to postpone or cancel them.