RAMALLAH, July 11 (JMCC) - Hundreds of Palestinians from civil society organizations and political parties gathered Monday outside the cabinet headquarters in Ramallah to protest the postponement of local council elections.
“Elections is our right, why do you tread on it, Abbas and Fayyad?” shouted the crowd, banners flying high in the peaceful protest.
“To speak of building a state means elections and democracy. The government is acting in a paradox to speak about state building, but ruining democracy,” said speaker Nassif Moalim from the Palestinian Center for Peace and Democracy to the crowd.
The protest comes in response to the Palestinian Authority's decision last month to postpone local council elections scheduled for July 17.
“The content of the cabinet decision refers to the cancellation of the cabinet decision to call for elections on the understanding of ‘national interests',” says Hisham Kuhail, chief electoral officer at the Central Elections Commission.
The protest, a rare public voicing of dissent against the Palestinian government, was organized by the Palestinian Election Monitoring Civil Committee. This umbrella organization comprises a coalition of more than 260 local groups, said organizers.
“We are here to voice our rejection of this cabinet decision and to call on them to fix a new date,” says Nancy Sadiq, director of the civil society group, Panorama. “There is no legal basis for the postponement.”
The protesters presented to the cabinet a letter detailing their request for new elections. Its envelope was a locked ballot box. “It asks the cabinet to make a new resolution for the elections before the end of this year,” said Moalim.
Palestinian Authority minister of local government Khaled Qawasmi received the ballot box outside of the cabinet headquarters, promising to transmit the message to the ministry. “This [protest] is very important in showing what the people want. The government will take it into consideration,” he told JMCC.org.
Speculation exists that the elections were postponed due to the current political divide between Fateh and Hamas, with Hamas refusing to participate or allow elections to go forward in the Gaza Strip. Many maintain that it is unconstitutional to have to elections in the West Bank and not in Gaza.
But this reasoning was widely dismissed by the protesters. “Council elections are related to local services; they are not political,” says Sadiq. “It is part of our constitutional right.”
“This is about defending the people’s right to vote and choose their councilors,” says Bassam Saleh of the Palestinian People’s Party. “[We need to] not make democracy a victim of division…this is not a constitutional issue, we can even have elections here and not in Gaza,” he added.
Sources state that the real cause for the cancellation is internal disagreement within Fateh over the candidate lists in certain districts. These are required for local elections, which are based on proportional representation.
Monday’s protest is part of a longer process of exerting pressure on the cabinet. “The coalition will present its case to the [Palestinian] High Court,” says Saleh.
It is unclear when the case will be filed, but it will appeal the cabinet's decision on the basis that it has no legal mandate to postpone the elections.
Election commission officials refused to comment on the legality of the cabinet decision. “We don’t give legal opinion, says Kuhail. We are here to implement government decrees. We are a professional and independent institution” He went on to say that, until the government postponed the elections, the commission was well on track to implementing them.
“We managed to register 200,000 persons,” says Kuhail. This means that 83 percent of West Bank Palestinians are registered and able to vote if and when a date is set for local council elections.