Palestinians vote in local elections amid anger with Abbas

Palestinians held municipal elections in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Saturday in a rare democratic exercise and amid rising anger with President Mahmoud Abbas after he cancelled planned legislative and presidential votes earlier this year.

Municipal elections are not being held in Gaza, whose Islamist rulers Hamas are boycotting the vote amid a rift with Abbas’ Fatah party. The 86-year-old president postponed municipal votes in major West Bank cities, such as Ramallah, that could have been seen as a referendum on Abbas’ rule.

More than 400,000 Palestinians were eligible to cast ballots for representatives in 154 village councils in the West Bank, where Abbas’ Palestinian Authority has limited self-rule. Municipal votes are typically held every four or five years.

“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.

Dr. Hanna Nasir, Chairman of the Central Elections Commission (CEC), announced today the results of the first phase of the 2021 Local Elections, which took place yesterday in 154 localities in the West Bank. The results included the number of votes and seats obtained by each list, as well as the names of the winners.

In a press conference held at the CEC’s media center Ramallah, Nasir said the results demonstrate that independent lists won 70.86% of the total contested council seats of 1,503, whereas partisan lists gained 29.14% of the overall seats.

The CEC Chairman said the final voter turnout in the first phase of the Local Elections reached 66.14% out of 405,687 eligible voters. He added that this percentage was issued after all voters who were inside polling centers were done with casting their votes.

Nasir pointed out that the total number of voters reached 268,318, and that the percentage of valid ballots reached 96.5%, blank ballots accounted for 1.01%, while invalid ballots accounted for 2.43% of the total votes.

The CEC has also announced the names of electoral lists, which won by acclamation in 162 localities due to having only one complete list nominated in each.

According to Local Council Elections Law, voters, candidates or their agents may object to Election results before the competent court within one week of the announcement of results. The Court adjudicates appeals within five days of submission and issues its final and binding decisions. The final results will then be published and submitted to the Ministry of Local Government.

Meantime, CEC Chairman said at the press conference that all preparations aimed at holding the second phase of the 2021 Local Elections are going on, where polling is scheduled for 26 March 2022. He said voter registration will start on 8 January 2022, while the start of electoral campaigning period will be on 13 March 2022.

He said polling in the second Phase of the 2021 Local Elections will take place in 66 localities, representing municipalities in Areas A and B of the West Bank, as well as all 25 localities in Gaza.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia November 23, 2021. Sputnik/Evgeny Biyatov/Kremlin via REUTERS
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia November 23, 2021. 

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.

The Palestinians seek statehood in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, territory Israel captured in a 1967 war. Israel annexed East Jerusalem in a move not recognized internationally, and peace talks between the two sides broke down in 2014.

Hamas has enjoyed a surge in popularity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem since fighting an 11-day war with Israel in May. The group won student council elections this year at several top West Bank universities, an important barometer of support.

Hamas won the Palestinians’ last legislative election in 2006. That victory laid the ground for a political rupture. Hamas seized Gaza after fighting a short civil war there with Fatah in 2007 and has ruled the coastal enclave ever since.

Arab Observer

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