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Palestinian elections: Despite Hamas boycott, Fatah fares poorly

The results announced today add to mounting concerns that Fatah – and the broader Palestinian leadership – is losing its legitimacy.

By Staff writer, Rebecca CollardCorrespondent / October 21, 2012

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas shows his ink-stained finger after casting his vote during local elections at a polling station in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Saturday. Palestinians voted for mayors and local councils in 93 communities across the West Bank on Saturday, their first chance to cast ballots in six years.

Majdi Mohammed/AP

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Jerusalem; and Ramallah, West Bank

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party made a disappointing showing in yesterday's local elections, with its chosen candidates failing to secure local majorities in key cities including Ramallah despite a boycott by its chief rival, Hamas

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“This is a landmark of the end of Fatah,” says Mahdi Abdul-Hadi, head of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA).

“In the absence of Hamas … Fatah could not lead completely as expected,” he says, pointing to the northern city of Nablus where the official Fatah list got only five of 15 available seats, losing the rest to Fatah independents. “There was no consensus, no leadership coherence, no commitment for the movement.”

The Associated Press cited preliminary results showing Fatah failed to receive majorities in five of 11 major towns. 

The results add to mounting concerns about Fatah – and the broader Palestinian leadership – losing its legitimacy. Mr. Abbas, who doubles as Fatah chairman, has been unable to secure progress on a variety of fronts, from peace talks with Israel, to reconciliation with Hamas, to last year's membership bid at the United Nations, to an economic crisis that has once again delayed payday for Palestinian Authority (PA) employees – all of whom are still waiting to be paid for September.

Steppingstone to national elections

Municipal elections, the first in at least six years, were seen as a potential way to boost the PA's credibility and create momentum for national elections – badly needed to restore the Palestinian legislature after a split five years ago with Hamas, the Islamist movement that has governed the coastal Gaza Strip ever since.

“I think that a lot of people across the political spectrum are hoping and working to use these elections as a starting point toward national elections and to pressure Hamas … to conform with the will of the majority of the people to have the national elections as soon as possible,” says Qais Abdul-Karim, a veteran politician and member of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Mr. Abdul-Karim says overall the elections strengthened the Palestinian political system, but argues that time is running short for nationwide elections – and that there is growing support among decisionmakers in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) for holding such elections even if Hamas threatens to boycott them as well.

“In my opinion, the time that we have got is very narrow,” he says. “I think that there is an urgent need for the political system to renovate … its legitimacy through [national] elections.”

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