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What is better for Fatah, a united or two separate electoral lists?

A Palestinian man enters the offices of the Central Elections Commission in Gaza City, on January 17, 2021. - Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on January 15, announced dates for the first elections in more than 15 years, setting legislative polls for May 22 and a July 31 presidential vote. Abbas's Fatah party, which controls the Palestinian Authority based in the occupied West Bank, and the Hamas Islamists, who hold power in Gaza, have for years expressed interest in taking Palestinians back to the polls. (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS / AFP) (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images)
A Palestinian man enters the offices of the Central Elections Commission in Gaza City, on January 17, 2021 [MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images]

On the eve of the legislative elections, the internal Palestinian situation resembles moving sand dunes; as soon as one of them settles, it is blown by the winds of speculation, changed and transported from one place to another. It seems that we must wait a few more weeks, perhaps until the end of March — the deadline for submitting candidacy applications — before the picture becomes clearer with regard to the various lists and alliances.

The most important shifting sands are within Fatah. There is a blizzard of speculation and questions: Will Fatah participate in the elections under a united list? Who will be on it? Will it meet the needs and aspirations of the people who are happy with the mother movement, those angry with it, and those against it? Is this a realistic scenario, given what we know about Fatah's state in the past two decades? However, the question that no one dares ask is this: Is it in the interest of Fatah (and the PLO factions) to run in the elections on one list, or will it get more votes and seats if it runs with two separate lists?

The motive behind these questions are the rumoured contacts between Fatah and Marwan Barghouti and Nasser Al-Qudwa; the movement wants to keep both "obedient". While the official leadership is spreading optimistic news about the results of Jibril Rajoub's mediation between Al-Qudwa and Mahmoud Abbas, and the outcome of Hussein Al-Sheikh's visit to Barghouti in prison, there are those who confirm that no serious developments took place and that the situation remains the same. They say that the final word will be issued by the relevant authorities, after the official Fatah list is announced publicly or when its main features are at least clear.

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I noticed some serious opinion polls conducted by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research, headed by Dr Khalil Shikaki, less than two months ago, and I saw some statistics that I think are important. The first is that Fatah will get 38 per cent of the votes, compared with 34 per cent for Hamas, if the former participates in the elections with a unified official list. Meanwhile, a list headed by Marwan Barghouti will get 25 per cent of the votes, and another official Fatah list will get 19 per cent of the vote if they participate as two competing lists. This means that the official Fatah list and the Fatah/Barghouti list together will receive 44 per cent of the Palestinian vote. If we add 10 per cent more, which the left and the democratic independents may win, this will mean that over half of the seats in the Legislative Council will go to Fatah and its allies, with a third going to Hamas. The rest of the seats may go to Dahlan's movement (about seven per cent) and other lists that may be created in the course of the election campaign.

The second statistic that I believe is important is related to the people's position on President Abbas running for another term. Two-thirds of those polled (66 per cent) oppose him standing again. This should not be viewed lightly, especially since other statistics back it up, including the competition between Abbas and Haniyeh over the presidency, in which the former will lose seven points to the latter. Moreover, elections in which Barghouti will run against Haniyeh will be decided in favour of the former, with a difference of 24 points. In addition to this, 52 per cent of Palestinians believe that there is someone better than Abbas as a candidate for Fatah in the next elections, compared with only 25 per cent who believe that he is the best option.

Fatah must study all of this data carefully and take into account the fact that there are more than a million new voters who will cast their votes for the first time this year, adding 40 per cent more voters. The Palestinian situation has changed since the last elections, and those who are unable to keep pace with the changes may be in for an unpleasant surprise.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Addustour on 23 February 2021

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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