Palestinians take first step towards local polls
August 18 2016 01:36 AM
Palestinian policemen stand guard outside the headquarters of the Central Elections Commission in the West Bank town of El Bireh yesterday.


Palestinian political parties began registering candidates for municipal elections yesterday, the first step in years towards a democratic vote.
The Palestinian Authority based in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, has called the elections for Oct. 8, with an estimated 2mn Palestinians eligible to cast ballots.
Hamas, which controls Gaza, has given its backing to the process and is ramping up its electoral machine, hoping to mount as strong a challenge as possible to the Fatah led by President Mahmoud Abbas.
In that respect, the municipal ballot is seen as a proxy for legislative elections, which were last held 10 years ago.
No new date has been set for either legislative or presidential elections, despite the mandates having long since expired.
The electoral process has repeatedly been scuppered by tensions between Fatah and Hamas, and it remains to be seen whether the municipal vote will in fact go ahead as planned.
“If this election succeeds, it will be the first breakthrough towards reconciliation,” said Hanna Nasser, the chairman of the Palestinian Central Election Committee. “Better to begin late rather than never.”
The last municipal ballot was held in 2012, although voting only took place in a fraction of the West Bank’s 350 municipalities, and Hamas in Gaza did not recognise it.
The last legislative election was held in 2006 and Hamas scored a surprise victory.
While registration has only just begun, the rivals are already exchanging accusations.
Hamas says the Fatah-backed Palestinian Authority is cracking down on rivals in the West Bank, arresting some and hindering its campaign there, while Fatah says Hamas has threatened its members in Gaza.
“Arrests will only increase the support for Hamas and despite our condemnation, we are determined to go ahead with the vote,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.
Fatah’s spokesman, Osama al-Qawasmi, said: “Hamas must stop sabotaging the election. We want these elections to be a road towards unity and not to prolong division.”

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