Fatah and Hamas have long made public overtures for
reconciliation, meeting in Cairo in 2011 and then in Doha in April. Yet their
plans for hosting these municipal elections together stalled, and the
agreement broke down. Indeed, the 2010 elections were cancelled and the 2011
elections postponed due to the rift between the two parties, as the Palestinian
Central Elections Committee blamed the political
divide as the primary obstacle to holding the elections.
It is unlikely that Saturday's Fatah-led elections did
anything to bridge the divide between the two parties; in fact, the tone from
senior officials suggest the rift will only widen. Salam Fayyad, the polarizing
Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority (PA), told Ma'an News,
time to get over the split. It was a complicated election but there shouldn't
be any excuses to prevent it going ahead. Hamas will be responsible politically
and ethically for preventing people from voting and must be judged for that."
Fatah's strength is waning
Despite being the party
with the most financial and political resources, Fatah did not claim the
sweeping victory it had hoped for on Saturday, winning in just five of the 11 main
districts. Showing the political infighting that has plagued the party for
years, many cities saw former Fatah party members running independently against
the party. After the polls closed, Fatah controlled the seats in cities such as
Hebron, Tulkarem and Jericho, yet lost control in Ramallah, Nablus, and Jenin.
Fatah officials had
hoped that the elections would show a unified support base in the face of its
rival, Hamas, yet what appeared Saturday was a party feeling the repercussions
of years of stalled peace process efforts, financial crises, and internal bickering.
High levels of apathy among Palestinians
The elections on
Saturday yielded relatively low voter turnout. Despite being the first
elections since 2006, where voter turnout was roughly 75 percent, these elections drew out just 54 percent, according to the Central Elections
Committee. The drop in participation can be attributed to a couple of factors,
most notably the well-documented disillusionment and apathy of the Palestinian voter.
Yet it's worth
noting that the drop in these numbers is comparable with the drop in U.S. voter
turnout between a presidential and congressional election. In 2008, U.S. voter turnout was 57 percent, while in 2010 it fell to 38 percent. In short: Are Palestinians disillusioned and
apathetic towards the democratic process? Yes. Is it normal to have a drop-off
in voter turnout between presidential and municipal elections? Yes. And,
coincidentally, does the PA still have a higher voter turnout than the U.S. in
its elections? Yes.
In the long run,
without an effective central government or any measurable progress in
negotiations with the Israeli government, the Palestinian municipal elections
may not have a significant impact on the political gridlock. Yet in a region
currently witnessing the sometimes-violent emergence of democracies, the
Palestinians are quick to note their veteran status. As vocalized by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose own term expired in 2009 with no
new presidential elections in sight:
"We hope we will be regarded by our brothers in Gaza and everywhere in the Arab
world as the ones who first embarked upon democracy, and we continue on this
path and we hope everyone will follow us."