NABLUS, Nov 8 (JMCC) - Colors were splashed at An-Najah National University in Nablus
Monday as students affiliated with their respected political parties marched through campus, waving their large distinctive colored flags and chanting patriotic slogans in concert.
Eight student organizations are competing for the 81 seats in the annual student council election that takes place on November 9th. The election day is considered an official holiday, with students only going to campus to vote.
Though the student council's official objective is to represent student interests to the university, the elections, which have traditionally been linked to political factions, are regarded as a manifestation of the larger Palestinian political scene amid the factional power struggle that's paralyzed the local and national elections for years.
Red flags represented the Wattan Bloc, the leftist coalition making up the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
, Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine
and the Palestinian Peoples Party
. The bright orange banners symbolized the Mubadarah
, the student bloc that represents the Palestinian National Initiative. Members of a new party called Kifah chose the face of late Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein, to amplify their white flags.
None of the colors matched the proliferate display of the flashy-yellow flags, however, carried out by the popular Shabebeh, or the Fateh
But one color was visibly missing: the iconic Islamic-inspired green banners of Hamas
Beleaguered by the three-year long aggressive crackdown by the Palestinian Authority
in the West Bank
, even the slightest support or sympathy for Hamas can lead to interrogations. Students have not been spared by the larger Palestinian Authority’s campaign against Hamas, which included mass arrests and arbitrary detention.
As a result, the Islamist student bloc, an alliance between Hamas and Islamic Jihad
, boycotted the elections for the third year in a row. Their colleagues at Birzeit University have also abstained from student elections earlier this year.
But Hamas supporters are not the only ones snubbing the elections. Ruba Rafaida, a 21 year-old English major from Tulkarem
, said that though she doesn't have strong political leanings, she would not vote in an election that didn't represent Hamas.
“The student council elections should be a great event for our university, but instead it became a great catastrophe, she said. The two biggest parties in Palestine have always been Fateh and Hamas, they were always competing with each other and now that Hamas is not a player, there is no competition and without competition, there is no real election.
The Fatah youth movement, however, denies any foul play. “Hamas is pulling out because it is afraid of losing,” said Saddam Omar, head of the Fatah youth movement.
Other students, like accounting major Mohammad Hashish, 20, from Nablus, said the growing sense of fatigue by the ubiquitous hostility between Fateh and Hamas have been advantageous to smaller parties like the Palestinian National Initiative.
Hashish, who is campaigning for the PNI, finds it easy to draw dissatisfied students to his party, which has been promising a platform focused on unity and educational reform. We were able to gain a lot of support and we expect more seats this year, he said. “We also hope to pick up some of the votes that would have otherwise gone to the Islamist bloc.”
Members of the current student council have held on to their seats for two years since last year's election was canceled due to internal administrative contentions.
While 2007 marked the beginning of Hamas pullout from the polls, the percentage of students who went to the polls consistently declined much earlier than that. Voter turnout in the last election in 2008 was only 59 percent, for example, down from 87 percent in 2004.
These results coincide with a survey conducted by Ramallah
-based Sharek Youth Forum in 2009, which revealed that 52 percent of Palestinian youth do not trust any political faction while 70 percent described themselves as politically inactive.
But political affinity aside, Rafaida said that the predictable victory takes away the excitement and incentive to vote all together. “Tomorrow might be election day,” Rafaida said in dismay, stuffing her purse with the color-coded campaign pamphlets. “But since the beginning of the school semester, we knew Fateh was going to win.”