As voters prepare headed to polls on Saturday, many express doubt over potential for change.
Walking through Manara Square in downtown Ramallah, one could easily believe that elections in the West Bank were on the mind of every Palestinian. Banners hang across busy streets, posters paper every graffiti-covered wall, cars circle shouting out party slogans. But for the most part, people keep walking.
“No, I’m not going to vote. What’s the point?” says Alaa’ Ghosheh, a young Ramallawi. “People will just go to the polls to vote for their cousins, their brothers, or other relatives. Only the candidates they know.” Ghosheh echoes a point made by many young Palestinians who see their current system of government as unchangeable. “They’re all just talking about reforms that won’t happen,” he continues.
A sense of skepticism prevails when discussing the expected results of this first round of local elections. Out of 354 electoral districts, only 93 localities are actually in contention in this first round, as the rest are single-party contests or couldn’t organize enough candidates to make a list. This leaves approximately half a million disenfranchised voters unable to exercise their democratic right to vote tomorrow, according to the Central Elections Commission Palestine.
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Furthermore, back in June, Hamas halted a voter registration drive in Gaza, the necessary first step in any electoral process. This was quickly followed by Hamas denouncing the call for local elections and proclaiming a party-wide boycott. With Hamas as the main opposition to Fatah, any elections activity in the West Bank has been reduced to small races between various Communist groups and intra-party bickering within Fatah.
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) recently expressed its doubts over the local elections. “Over the past number of years, the separate governments of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have appointed new local councils directly. This has resulted in favoritism and the appointment of individuals to councils to which they were not elected.”
Moreover, the repeated delays in elections, compounded by the deepening political rifts within the PA have impacted the effectiveness of government, leading to “wide-scale violations of human rights and public freedoms by the authorities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and by their security services,” PCHR continued.
Throughout this elections cycle, the youth has been viewed as a particularly important target demographic group. As a society with approximately half the population under the age of 18, Palestinians are all too aware that engaging the generation that grew up under the second Intifada is imperative. While university political groups boast strong support, for many students, making the leap to real party involvement has proven difficult as they face the cronyism and political patronage that spreads through the older generation in the upper party ranks.
Meanwhile, there are others still very positive about the whole process. “The elections have opened discussion. Every time I go out with my friends, we talk about the elections and who they’re voting for,” said Shadi (last name withheld), another young professional living in Ramallah. Shadi expressed particular excitement, as during the last elections in 2006, he was too young to be involved. “I feel it’s great, it’s a new experience. Even though I don’t vote, I feel it will bring something good for this city.” Although Shadi has reached eligible voting age, and has lived in Ramallah all his life, as an Israeli passport holder he is forbidden from voting in West Bank elections. Rights violations such as these are reminders that, despite the internal politics that might frustrate disaffected voters, the underlying, and perhaps more delegitimizing, factor for elections will always remain the pervasive influence of the occupation.