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October 26, 2012 Special Dispatch No. 5029

Severe Crisis In Fatah Following Municipal Election Results

October 26, 2012
Palestine | Special Dispatch No. 5029

On October 20, 2012, municipal elections were held in the West Bank, in which Hamas and Islamic Jihad did not participate. Hamas called to boycott the elections since they were "illegal and deepened the schism between Fatah and Hamas," and prevented them from taking place in Gaza.[1]

The following are details on the election results:


'Abbas casts his vote. Image: moheet.com, October 20, 2012

Low Voter Turnout

Voter turnout was only at 54.8% – villages had a turnout of 70-75%, and cities had low turnout rates (for example, Ramallah had a 26% turnout). The turnout was low because about half of the approximately one million eligible voters failed to register – some of them as a deliberate act of protest – and only half of those who registered actually went to the polls.[2] Hamas speakers, as well as a columnist for the Palestinian Authority daily Al-Ayyam, said that this reflects how meager the support is for Fatah.

The elections featured official Fatah lists; lists of Fatah members or associates who chose to run as part of non-Fatah lists; lists of independents that are not politically associated; and other lists, including of left-wing elements.

Prior to the elections, the Fatah Central Committee threatened to expel Fatah members running under lists independent of the organization. The Central Committee feared that the votes would be distributed among many elements, thus weakening Fatah, as happened in the Legislative Council elections in 2006 and helped Hamas to achieve victory. However, these Fatah members did not succumb to the pressure, and preferred to withdraw from the movement and run under separate lists.

Independent Lists Beat Fatah Lists In Some Cities

The election results indicate that Fatah's official lists gained a majority of seats in only some of the larger towns (Hebron – 10 seats, Qalqiliya – 10 seats, Tulkarm – 8 seats, and Jericho – 12 seats), while independent lists of Fatah associates gained majorities in other towns. Thus, for example, in Nablus, the independent list headed by Ghassan Al-Shaka'a (a member of the PLO Executive Committee from Fatah) won 10 seats, while the official Fatah list, headed by Fatah Revolutionary Council Secretary-General Amin Maqboul, won 5 seats. In Jenin, an independent list won 8 seats, while the official Fatah list won 5; and in Ramallah, an independent list of Fatah associates won 10 seats.

Criticism In Fatah Over Declaration Of Victory In Elections

Some Fatah speakers expressed satisfaction with the election results, and saw them as a vote of confidence in the movement's political plan. However, other movement officials, chiefly PA President Mahmoud 'Abbas, harshly criticized the results and called on the movement to examine itself. 'Abbas also criticized Fatah official 'Azzam Al-Ahmad, who was in charge of the elections in Jenin, for failing to produce a victory for the Fatah list.[3] 'Abbas was also quoted by Hisham Saqallah, a columnist close to the PLO, as having said during a Fatah Central Committee meeting that Fatah had entered the elections alone and won second place. Saqallah said low voter turnout could be explained by a loss of public trust in the leadership of existing organizations, and called to convene the institutions tasked with preparing Fatah's Seventh Convention in order to establish a new Fatah leadership before the next Legislative Council and presidential elections. He also claimed that attempts to describe the results as a victory amount to "throwing sand in [our] eyes."[4]

Similarly, Al-Ayyam columnist Tallal 'Okal wrote that Fatah had run against itself in these elections, and had beaten itself. According to 'Okal, the phenomenon of Fatah members establishing separate lists stemmed not only from organizational disagreements, but also from political ones, and the results indicate that Fatah institutions cannot restore the movement, even though this was decided at Fatah's Sixth Convention some four years ago.[5]

Fatah Central Committee member Amal Hamad claimed that Fatah should conduct "an immediate, real and thorough investigation of the results... Fatah members should have respected the rules, and should have held primary elections."[6] 'Adli Sadeq, another Fatah official, called to close the existing gap between the Fatah leadership and its grassroots activists.[7]

Conclusions

Since there was no real contest between the major Palestinian forces (as Hamas and Islamic Jihad boycotted the elections, and other elements are not a significant rival to Fatah), it is impossible to determine Fatah's power compared to the other forces, and whether or not its "victory" reflects popular support of its political plan. The relatively low voter turnout could indicate a lack of trust in political organizations or a protest against elections that were not inclusive.

The internal rivalries and lack of discipline within Fatah's ranks that were reflected in Fatah members running under separate lists despite the threat of being expelled from the movement, should be a warning light for Fatah ahead of the Legislative Council and presidential elections.


Endnotes:

[1] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), October 22, 2012.

[2] Al-Ayyam (PA), October 20, 2012.

[3] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), October 22, 2012.

[4] Amad.ps, October 21, 2012.

[5] Al-Ayyam (Palestinian Authority), October 22, 2012.

[6] Amad.ps, October 22, 2012.

[7] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), October 22, 2012.

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