Palestinian drama: voting under an occupation

27 January 2006

Palestinian drama: voting under an occupation

SP-senator Tiny Kox was an official observer for the Council of Europe, of whose parliamentary assembly he is a member, at the Palestinian elections held on 25th January 2006. He reports from Palestine.

On election day

Earthquake in Palestinian politics?

The Palestinians can certainly organise elections, as the events of the last few days have confirmed. Virtually every observer's report has mentioned how well almost everything has gone, while the Jerusalem Post described them as “remarkably friendly, cheerful and peaceful”. What the Palestinians are still unable to do, however – and this is something which might be said of many others – is predict the result.

This became clear at around seven o'clock when I heard the announcement from the central election commission. Yesterday's exit polls came close: Hamas, not Fatah, will be the biggest party in the Palestinian parliament – and by some distance. In particular, the seats distributed under the district system went en masse to Hamas.

These are the figures issued by the election commission, after 95 percent of the votes were counted.

76 seats
43 seats
PFLP (left coalition)
3 seats
Independent Palestine (led by Mustafa Barghoutti)
2 seats
The Third Way (led by Hannan Ashrawi)
2 seats
6 seats

This means that Hamas has an absolute majority and can in principle form the new government on its own. Hamas spokesman Ismail Haniyeh, however, says that they will first examine the question of whether a coalition with other parties could be formed, though this will take some doing. Prime Minister Qurei did, after all, immediately present his resignation to President Abbas as soon as it became clear that his party had lost the contest with Hamas As his decision to leave his post was announced, the defeated prime minister said that Fatah preferred opposition to coalition.

Tiny Kox observes voting in Jeruzalem

Fatah has been dealt a blow by the voters worse even than the party had feared. A great deal will have to be changed now that Fatah can no longer lay claim to being the sole spokesman for the Palestinian people. If you don't perform you pay the price, in Palestine as much as elsewhere. The population is obviously so unhappy with Fatah's failures in economic and social policy, as well as over the stalled peace process, that Hamas was seen as a means whereby they could make it clear that they wanted change.

In addition to Hamas, a number of small groups have appeared on the scene. A left coalition, the PFLP, won three seats, while both Mustafa Barghoutti's Independent Palestine and dissident former Fatah education minister's Hannan Ashrawi's breakaway list won two. Some had hoped for more, but these groups have at least won enough support to exceed the threshold below which no parliamentary seats could be awarded. As a result of Hamas' huge victory there is no question of any of these holding the balance of power, which had been seen as a possibility earlier in the week. Still, it's good that they will at least have a platform in parliament, and that the elections have produced a more varied representation.

Overseas reaction was also varied, with George Bush and Israeli premier Ehud Olmert responding with dismay, the latter stating that he will have nothing to do with a Hamas-dominated government.

Everyone agreed that the Palestinian Authority must organise a democratic election, and now they have done just that. Voters had a genuinely free choice, and they have chosen. If the result isn't easy to accept, the Israelis and Americans have only themselves to blame for it. In their refusal to meet the previous Palestinian government's demands halfway, they created the conditions for an outcome which is clearly not to their taste.

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