Next week, voters in the West Bank will go to the polls for the first time since parliamentary elections were held in 2006. Party campaigns kicked off a few days ago, and ever since, constituents of hotly-contested districts have been inundated with posters, radio spots, commercials and informational TV episodes.
More than half a million Palestinians in the West Bank will vote on October 20. The Gaza Strip is not partaking in the elections as Islamist party Hamas decided to halt voter registration in June and boycott all further election proceedings. After Hamas won a majority of seats in the parliamentary elections of 2006, the faction clashed with left-leaning party Fatah over building a unity government. The struggle ultimately resulted in a split leadership over the occupied territories, leaving Hamas in charge of the Gaza Strip and Fatah in control over the Palestinian Authority-led West Bank.
The calling of elections has drawn criticism from Hamas, who called for a reconciliation agreement to be implemented before elections could take place, claiming that their party members face harassment in the West Bank. Other critics have pointed out that the exclusion of Gaza and East Jerusalem, coupled with the withdrawal of Hamas candidates from all ballots, delegitimizes the outcomes of the polls. Furthermore, of the 353 localities in the West Bank, 181 will go uncontested on election day, the result of traditional party loyalty and a lack of available candidates in some areas, according to the Central Elections Commission Palestine.
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Of the main parties in contention, Fatah, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine are the most prominent. However, in reality many believe the elections will do little more than shore up Fatah's hold over power.
Supporters of the elections point to signs of progress. Of the 4,696 candidates running, 25% are women as per the quota for female candidates. In Hebron, an all-female bloc is challenging the male norm in the usually conservative city. The public is more informed about the electoral system and party platforms, should general elections be called in the future. For many new registered voters or nominated candidates, it is their first chance to take an active role in the democratic process.
The elections are taking place after weeks of protests against the Palestinian Authority (PA) over high costs of living and low wages. The PA has faced difficulty paying government workers' salaries over the past few months, most recently stating they cannot be sure when they'll pay employees' wages for September, according to Ma’an News Agency.
With elections having been postponed twice since 2010, many voters believed that change was a very distant prospect. However, despite the difficulties faced under the occupation and the failure at reconciliation between the parties, these local elections are a symbolic step forward. As polling centers are set up and the campaigning reaches a fever pitch, all signs are pointing to the realization of elections that Palestinians once thought impossible.