Two days after Thursday’s elections and I am still sitting here listening to the same heightened pre election (now post-election) onslaught of car horns as they beep both continuously and furiously up and down the road. On second thoughts perhaps it has nothing to do with the elections. It is the weekend after all; there could be a wedding. Regardless of the reason for this evening’s mobile raucous, attention is still very much turned towards the recent local council elections and as a resident of Beit Sahour, so too is mine.
Unfortunately as a British citizen, I’'ve had a double does of election mayhem with Thursday the 5th of May, also being the day the British public some what reluctantly reelected Tony Blair. In fact the similarities do not end here. Many voters in Beit Sahour are also desperate for change. They too are disillusioned with their political leaders, and frustrated that the popular vote is not achieving satisfying results which surely should be an automated result of democracy? As one woman laminated:
Will the people never learn? We want a responsible and clean local government but yet we still vote the old corrupt leaders back in.
I read a depressing headline in the Jerusalem Post yesterday; “"Despite Iraq anger UK votes for Blair"”. From the UK to the OPT; disillusionment with democracy. Or perhaps '‘democratic disillusionment'’ would be a more perceptive phrase?
In the Bethlehem ghetto, the local election battle appeared surprisingly fierce. The past month has culminated in nightly party election rallies or what is locally dubbed as '‘festivals'’. Party posters and banners have been strung and stuck to both stationary and moving objects; from street lights to taxis. The nightly routine of finishing work and going to the gym or shopping was temporarily replaced with going to a local party ‘festival’. On a personal level this has been a treat; an empty swimming pool followed by a queue-less supermarket. Such rigorous electoral enthusiasm and the near total mobilsation (children included!) can be explained on numerous levels.
Firstly, the municipality elections follow the earlier Presidential elections, which were held last January. This undoubtedly re-ignited political consciousness and kick started political grass roots involvement after a particularly arid democratic spell. On a local level this translated into a battle between the traditional and known Fatah candidates and younger and less known figures. A second explanation for the vibrancy of the election campaigns is that Thursday’s elections were the first local elections held in 29 years. Local elections were last held in the West Bank in 1976.
Unfortunately, this democratic deficit fairs much better than Gaza, where there have been no municipal elections since the end of the British Mandate, in 1948. Consequently, the years of democratic thirst resulted in an unconfirmed turn out of around 82%. In the UK voter turn out last reached such a figure in 1950. On Thursday it reached a contemporary 'impressive' 61.3%. Meanwhile, across the Green Line, in 2003, 68.5% of Israelis seem to value their '‘island of democracy'’, when Sharon'’s Likud government was re-elected with the lowest turnout for the Israeli Knesset in Israeli history.
There were 13 seats to be allocated on Thursday, and it was close (but for those desperate for change, it was still not close enough). The ruling party, Fatah, took seven seats, the left-wing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) won five, while the remaining seat went to an independent candidate. Four of the 13 members elected were women. With Fatah winning a clear majority it is not necessary for the new council to elect the town’s new mayor. However, in the neighboring village of Beit Jala, the figures were a little tighter. Fatah won six seats, with the PFLP winning five and the remaining two being taken by independent candidates. Consequently, Fatah has not been allowed the liberty it has in Beit Sahour, and one of the primary tasks of the new council will be to elect its mayor from amongst its members.
Meanwhile, in the town nestling between these two predominately Christian provinces, the battle was not quite so straight forward. Bethlehem residents had to elect 15 members; or as one voter laughed, “'We got to play a good game of noughts and crosses'”.
In order to understand the real significance of the Bethlehem vote, attention must be paid to detail. In Bethlehem seven seats were reserved for Muslim candidates and eight for Christian candidates. This meant that unlike the other 2,519 candidates competing for 906 seats in the 84 municipal councils throughout the rest of the West bank and Gaza, the competition was not a straight Fatah verses Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement) match. Rather it was a contest between differing streams within Fatah, the relatively localized PFLP and an array of indepdent candidates. This being the case, Bethlehem, was dubbed as 'one of the most hotly contested areas’. However, it was also one of the four municipalities’ where Hamas made some real headway.
Ultimately, six of the seven ‘'Muslim'’ seats went to Hamas (with the Islamic Jihad taking the eighth) while the eight seats reserved for Christian candidates were divided equally between the PFLP and Fatah. Perhaps the UK could learn another lesson, or rather put substance behind its rhetoric of ‘cultural and religious’ diversity. In the UK on Thursday only four out of the 646 seats were taken by Muslim candidates, however, at least 19 Muslim MPs would need to be elected in order to reflect the community's estimated 3 percent of the electorate (roughly 1.1 million).
Although the election results have still to be officially announced by the Central Election Committee (CEC), the unofficial election results indicate that overall Fatah has won a majority in 45 of the local councils, while Hamas has won 23 and the remaining 16 councils are shared between the PFLP and independent candidates lists. The next stage of Palestinian democratization (aside of course from the withdrawal of the Israeli occupation army and the destruction of the separation wall) is scheduled for 17 July 2005, when the electorate will once again go to the ballot box to elect members to the Palestinian Legislative Council.
Meanwhile, the car horns continue but for tonight I cannot. The noise is too overwhelming. I wonder what it sounds like at home?
One of the many 'political cars'. Bethlehem.
Standing tall; election posters in Bethlehem
Early on Thursday morning; ready to vote in Bethlehem.
For more on the Palestinian Municpal elections visit http://www.alternativenews.org/
Posted by Peacerider