Palestinians begin local elections amid condemning Abbas, Hamas boycott

Mahmoud Abbas
Mahmoud Abbas

Gaza Post – Palestinians organized municipal elections in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Saturday, in a rare democratic exercise and despite mounting criticism of President Mahmoud Abbas for canceling planned parliamentary and presidential polls earlier this year.

More than 400,000 Palestinians were eligible to vote in 154 village council elections in the West Bank, where Abbas’ Palestinian Authority enjoys limited self-rule. Municipal elections are held every four or five years on average.

Municipal elections are not being held in Gaza because its Islamist rulers, Hamas, are boycotting the vote due to a schism with Abbas’ Fatah party. Municipal elections in important West Bank cities such as Ramallah, which could have been interpreted as a referendum on Abbas’ leadership, were postponed by the 86-year-old president.

“These elections cannot be an alternative to legislative elections,” said Ahmad Issa, 23, outside a polling station in the West Bank village of Bir Nabala, adding that a legislative vote could offer “a horizon for the youth” and lead to reforms.

In the village of Beit Kahil, women and men lined up outside a polling station, some in facemasks to protect against COVID-19. Once inside, they placed voting papers in envelopes and dropped them into ballot boxes, dipping their fingers in ink as they left in a move to prevent people voting twice.

Abbas, whose support has sagged in opinion polls, drew widespread anger in April when he cancelled legislative and presidential elections scheduled for the summer, citing Israeli curbs on Palestinian voting in East Jerusalem.

Abbas’ rivals, including Hamas, accused him of using the Jerusalem voting dispute as an excuse to cancel elections that polls showed he and his party would lose to the Islamist group. Abbas, who has ruled by decree for over a decade, denies this.

A spokesman for Hamas, which boycotted previous municipal elections in 2012 and 2017, said the group “refuses to participate in partial elections that are tailored to Fatah, and conducted by the Palestinian Authority,” calling on Abbas to reschedule the cancelled summer votes.

Since fighting an 11-day war with Israel in May, Hamas has seen a boost in popularity throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem. This year, the organization won student council elections at many key West Bank campuses, which is an important indicator of support.

The Palestinians want to establish a state in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in a 1967 war. Israel annexed East Jerusalem in a move that was not recognized by the international community, and peace efforts between the two parties broke down in 2014.

In 2006, Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections. That win paved the way for a political schism. After a brief civil war with Fatah in Gaza in 2007, Hamas grabbed control of the coastal enclave and has ruled it ever since.

(Source / 11.12.2021)

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