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The failure of local Palestinian elections

Image of a voting registering centre in Rafah in the southern Gaza strip [apaimages]
Image of a voting registering centre in Rafah, Gaza [apaimages]

Local Palestinian elections were held on 13 May 2017 to elect municipal and village council members.

These elections were held quietly, which is rare, and an atmosphere of reassurance and integrity was prevalent. Hamas was absent from the scene, which takes much away from the elections being described as democratic.

Hamas decided not to participate in the elections and did not agree to hold elections in the Gaza Strip, and this is a point against Hamas, not in its favour. But what could have happened if Hamas ran in the elections with its own electoral lists? It is likely that the Palestinian security agencies would have taken measures against those labelled as Hamas and the Israelis would have taken even harsher measures and perhaps even detained some. The atmosphere in the West Bank is still inappropriate to claim democratic elections were held there, while democracy in Gaza is unavailable.

In any case, the elections were held, votes were counted, and new municipal and village councils were formed. Technically, the elections were held, and those who won, won, and those who lost, lost. However, in actuality, a matter which deems the elections successful or a failure, I will say the following:

  1. The Palestinian organisations were clearly absent from the elections scene, and most of them did not form electoral lists. Some of the factions ran in the elections under family names, especially in the villages, and were content with a limited number of candidates. This emphasises the popular weakness the Palestinian factions and parties are experiencing. it is clear that the organisations are confident that their supporters have declined drastically and that the Palestinian public no longer trust them.
  2. The families, especially in the villages, replaced the Palestinian organisations in the leadership of the electoral campaigns. A large social and political gap occurred in the Palestinian arena due to the absence of the organisations, and history hates gaps. Due to the absence of the political, intellectual and social elites from the elections arena, the families were the alternative that filled the gap. This is a dangerous indicator of the future of the Palestinian people. The tribal or familial social structure is a separating, racist and non-uniting structure that threatens the national Palestinian unity and social unity. It banishes the ability to rely on a national moral and humanitarian system that is universally held by all. However, vacuums have disadvantages, and one disadvantage is the sacrifice of societal cohesion and its moral level.
  3. We have also noticed that the people's participation in the elections was very low, especially in the cities. The families have taken control of the electoral scene in the villages, and therefore the level of electoral participation is high, since the families are able to gather their electoral energies easily without many expenses. Provoking familial feelings and tribal affiliations within Arab societies is easy and falls on open ears. However, in the cities, where familial links are weaker than in the villages, it is difficult to mobilise people to vote. A significant number of people failed to vote, and perhaps the lowest number of voters was in Nablus. Official statistics indicate that only 20 per cent of those in Nablus voted, while other, unofficial statistics, reported only 14 per cent.
  4. Image of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on 23 April 2017 [Palestinian Presidency / Handout/Anadolu Agency]

  5. The low number of voters and familial blocs indicate a real tragedy faced by the Palestinian people internally. The weak participation suggests that the people have lost trust in the municipal councils and social and political leaderships. The people refrain from participation when they see there is no use for existing councils and do not want fruitless participation. The people's absence of confidence in the leaderships, elites, institutions and parities means that society is heading towards alienation and a sense of helplessness, weakness and loss. Alienation is dangerous for societies because it reinforces dependency, defencelessness and carelessness, and weakens feelings of loyalty, affiliation and the desire to serve the greater good. If anyone is happy with the weakened number of participants in the elections, it is the Israelis who see this as a victory for them. They have said that if Palestinians no longer care who provides services to them, then they wouldn't care about who governs or controls them, i.e. they are prepared to co-exist with the occupation with no problems.
  6. Familyism is a strong indicator of weak societal unity because familyism and tribalism by definition are discriminatory biased social structures aiming to eliminate and exclude others. Those associated with tribalism are biased towards their tribe and this acts as their source of security and continued existence. The interests of their tribe are given priority over the interests of the country and the people. Tribalists only see economic and physical security in their tribes, and see the state as a challenge, while authority is given to the head of the tribe. This structure or arrangement is a gift to the Israelis who are reassured by an unhealthy Palestinian social structure that is willing to sacrifice the greater good for personal interests. We all know how, in Arab history, political authorities have benefitted from such tribal structures to practice the policy of divide and conquer or by providing tribal loyalty to the authority through financial and material offers.

If the Palestinians had a wise authority that studies matters practically, then their leaders would have decided to stay out of the political and social scene. The development of familyism is a political failure because it confirms the failure of the political authority's various social, economic and moral programmes.

The poor participation in the electoral process indicates the absence of the people's confidence in their institutions and leaderships. When confidence and trust are absent, then social work is absent, production disintegrates and ties are severed. There are many justifications on many levels that urge the Palestinian Authority's leaders to depart.

Translated from Arabi21, 18 May 2017

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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