Palestinian elections ... again

Signs and billboards have already been posted throughout the West Bank, calling on Palestinians to make their voices heard in the contest.

Abbas half smile profile 311 (photo credit: AP)
Abbas half smile profile 311
(photo credit: AP)
The Palestinian Authority is going ahead with plans to hold municipal elections on July 17. They are taking place despite the fact that the de facto government in Gaza has refused to accommodate them in areas under its control. Hamas has also said that it is calling on its supporters in the West Bank not to participate. The movement, which has yet to agree to the Egypt-sponsored reconciliation plan, says that elections of any kind (municipal, parliamentary or presidential) should only take place after Palestinians are unified.
Supporters insist that municipal elections are apolitical and should not be judged by the same matrix as parliamentary elections. Furthermore, the PA says that municipal elections can take place on a gradual basis, meaning that they may be carried out at a later stage in Gaza, once reconciliation takes place.
One of the indicators of the success of the elections will be the level of participation. Signs and billboards have already been posted throughout the West Bank, calling on Palestinians to make their voices heard in the contest.
Members of the Fatah movement have been working overtime trying to make plans for the municipal lists that will be posted. After the defeat in the 2006 elections, which is blamed in part on differences within Fatah and the failure to field good candidates, it says that it will not repeat the previous mistake. The movement leaders say they are not interested in fielding their candidates, but are willing to accept good candidates even if they are not necessarily members of Fatah.
POLITICALLY, AN argument has ensued as to whether a wide coalition should be formed in major cities. Some argue that the best way to respond to the Hamas position is to present a unified nationalist list. Supporters of this idea suggest that by having PLO lists, Fatah is not seen as monopolizing the elections.
A unified list, however, has been opposed by some who feel that this will take away any suggestion of a competitive poll. By fielding PLO lists, the argument goes, most local elections will be seen as unnecessary, with results almost predetermined by politicians in smoke-filled room, without giving an opportunity to the public to be involved in this democratic process.
With Hamas boycotting the elections, the question is whether Fatah willshow discipline and judgment in choosing good candidates and howeffective it will be in bringing out the vote. While about 20percent-30% of the population do not vote in most elections, a muchlarger percentage of absentees will be considered a negative signal forthe PLO and the current PA leadership.
Local elections are expected to be closely scrutinized by local,regional and international observers. Holding elections at theagreed-upon time will be seen as a vote of confidence for the SalamFayyad caretaker government. With parliamentary and presidentialelections indefinitely postponed, this will be the only measure of theattitude of the Palestinians towards the Mahmoud Abbas-Fayyad policies.In particular, the elections are expected to give further support andlegitimacy to the Fayyad government, which has made the rule of law anda stable government as its principal pillars. Part of such stability isthe ability to hold regular elections.
If elections take place with a big participation, this will give a bigboost to Fayyad and Abbas. Palestinians and the international communitywill also be looking to these elections to gauge the level of supportFayyad and his moderate policies enjoy.
The writer is an award-winning Palestinian journalist and aformer Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. He isgeneral manager of Community Media Network Radio Al Balad.