RAMALLAH, Feb 9 (JMCC) - The Palestinian Authority
cabinet on Tuesday announced that municipal elections will be held in the West Bank
and Gaza Strip
on July 9. It will be the first vote since 2006 and some Palestinians see the move as little more than an effort to avoid the spread of protests looming in neighboring Egypt.
“I don’t think anyone is really expecting any change from the elections,” says Omar Kattan, 34, a graphic designer who works in Ramallah
. “It’s to show that Palestine is not like Egypt, not like Tunisia – that we are more democratic. It’s just a show.”
As protests hit a high point in Egypt last week, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad
announced that his government would hold elections as soon as possible in both the West Bank and Gaza.
Magid Shihade, assistant professor in international studies at Birzeit University, is also critical of the announcement. “The government in place is acting like it’s a legitimate one and ignoring the fact that it’s an appointed one, not elected by the people, he says.
“It’s trying to legitimize the Fayyad government by these elections on one hand and to appear more democratic than other Arab countries on the other.”
The Islamic movement Hamas
that governs the Gaza Strip has already announced that it will prevent the vote from taking place there. These elections are legally invalid and the authority and the Palestinian government in the West Bank have lost the citizens' support, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said. We will not be a part of this farce.
In the West Bank, Hamas is a banned organization and will likely be prevented from openly participating in the vote.
Hamas won general parliamentary elections in 2006, but was blocked from governing by an international funding boycott led by the United States and Israel
, which consider the group a terrorist organization.
In the summer of 2007, Hamas armed forces overran Palestinian Authority security installations in the Gaza Strip, resulting in a leadership split with Hamas ruling Gaza and the Fateh
-controlled Palestinian Authority limited to the West Bank.
Some Palestinians feel the decision to hold elections should have been made as part of a reconciliation between the two factions.
“They have delayed the elections many times so what is the rush now?” says Muna Marawi, 22, a student at al-Quds Open University in Ramallah. “Our problem is different from Egypt, it is the issue with Hamas and that problem is still there.”
Mohammad al-Sayyed, 29, defended the Palestinian Authority's swift move to announce elections despite the factional division.
“Whatever [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas
does, there will be people complaining,” he said. “If the elections were not announced, everyone will ask why they are not announced. And now that they are announced, they are saying it is too early.”
Local council elections were originally set for July 17 of last year, but postponed because of internal disagreements. Parliamentary and presidential elections were also due to be held in January of last year, but the Palestinian Authority abandoned the plan.
When elections were postponed last summer, many took the streets and protested. Answering a petition brought by some political factions and human rights groups, a Palestinian court ruled in December that local council elections must be held immediately.
Palestinian officials have said that if Hamas prevents the holding of elections in Gaza, it would hold the vote in the West Bank alone.
“It’s natural for Hamas to reject it [election] because it’s by a government that doesn’t recognize them,” professor Shihade says. “To accept something from the government that they don’t recognize would go against everything they worked for since 2005.”
Shihade believes that Hamas will likely hold separate elections but at a later time.
“It’s a tricky situation now because it seems like [Hamas] are not interested in the local elections and that they are not interested in democracy promotion,” he says. “But they might have elections set on a later time to appear that it is separate and not in connection with the Palestinian Authority.”
Generally, observers expect low voter turnout due to political apathy.
“From what I see, the public in general is not interested in the political process at all,” Shihade said. “There will be people that are allied with Fateh that will go to vote but I’m not sure of the other parties, I don’t see a lot of presence from them.”
For some, municipal elections will be an opportunity for smaller parties to address local issues and stir public awareness.
“I think I will vote,” says Kattan. “It’s not going to be a perfect election, but it is better than nothing.”