Palestinians in the West Bank went to the polls Saturday for the first time in six years to vote for mayors and local councils in 93 communities. However, the excitement of election day was dampened by a number of recent events.
First, voting comes at a time when the Palestinian Authority (PA), strapped for cash, is under attack by its own constituents. Last month, demonstrations swept across the West Bank as locals protested the increasing cost of living and corruption within their government. The protests prompted the PA to cancel its planned tax hikes that were aimed to bring in revenue. The PA currently runs a monthly deficit of $100 million and faces debts of $1.5 billion.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas shows his ink-stained finger after casting his vote. (Photo: Majdi Mohammed/AP)
In addition, when it came to the elections, votes were not collected in some 260 municipalities, as residents within those areas either reached power-sharing deals and decided to forgo elections or there were no candidates to put on the ballot. Voter turnout was also considered fairly low with some 55 percent of eligible Palestinians voting. This is compared to the 75 percent who voted in the 2006 parliamentary elections in which Hamas was victorious, and the two-thirds who voted in municipal elections in 2004 and 2005.
Moreover, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip did not vote, as the Hamas movement that controls the area blocked elections from taking place. Hamas also instructed its members in the West Bank to not participate in the elections. But even with the Hamas boycott, in the end West Bankers did not give the ruling Fatah party the strong endorsement it sought, voting against the movement in five of the 11 main towns. In the majority of towns where Fatah lost, voters chose independent lists dominated by Fatah breakaways and candidates kicked out of the movement for running against its official list.
The elections were largely called to try to lend legitimacy to the Palestinian Authority and put off further Palestinian protests. But with the above concerns in mind, compounded by the fact that Palestinian reconciliation is on hold indefinitely and Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations are at a standstill, it is hard to imagine that this small-scale election will change the way West Bank Palestinians view their governing institution.