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Election delay blow to Palestinian unity: “No elections, no democracy, no end to division”

Published on Monday, 10 May 2021

The postponement of elections is a major blow to the hopes of Palestinians to rebuild democracy and reach national unity, says CMI’s Senior Advisor Sultan Yasin. The situation brings a new impetus for CMI and its partner Masarat to support Palestinians reach common ground for building a democratic, just and unified society.

Many Palestinians had hoped that the elections would bring change and overcome divisions. Photo: Montecruz Foto (https://www.flickr.com/photos/libertinus/17701499922/)

In postponing the parliamentary and presidential elections, set for 22 May and 31 July, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the move was due to Israel being unable to affirm that it would allow voting to take place in East Jerusalem. The majority of parties and candidate lists rejected the postponement and the stated reason, and indicated that there are many alternatives to holding elections in East Jerusalem.

A third postponed poll was scheduled for the Palestinian National Council (PNC) on 31 August. Abbas did not set new dates for the three elections.

The elections would have been the first in 15 years. The violence between Hamas and Fatah parties in the wake of the last elections led to the political and geographical division of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Gaza is ruled by Hamas, the West Bank by Fatah. The power struggle between the two factions and the absence of meaningful ways to influence politics have caused stagnation in society and malaise among Palestinians.

Many had hoped that the elections would bring change and overcome divisions.

“Now, Palestinians are really frustrated. People were eager to express their opinion and exercise their right to vote for the first time in 15 years and contribute to change. Calling off the elections shatters hopes and make people feel more helpless and distrustful of tomorrow,” says CMI’s Senior Advisor Sultan Yasin.

In Yasin’s opinion, the postponement will further deepen divisions, increasing distrust between the ruling political parties and new political movements. The authority of political institutions will further decline. Yasin also fears that freedom of opinion and expression will be further restricted.

“No elections, no democracy and no end to division,” says Yasin pithily.

Youth active for change

The enthusiasm Palestinians felt is indicated by the fact that more than 93% of eligible voters registered for the long-awaited elections. The postponement hits especially young people that have been largely marginalized in the Palestinian society. No Palestinian under 34 has voted in national elections. This means that for more than one million Palestinians these elections could have been their first chance to have a say.

Young people have also been active in creating new political movements that challenge the political dominance of Hamas and Fatah and want to end different divisions. Thirty-six candidate lists were approved to run in the parliamentary elections. Most of these lists consisted of independent candidates. The percentage of those aged 28-40 in the candidate lists was 38 %.

“Palestinian youth need to heal from the trauma caused by the postponement of elections. But I believe they will return to contribute actively to their society to bring about positive change,” says Yasin.

CMI and its partner Masarat, the Palestinian Center for Policy Research and Strategic Studies, organised six workshops to strengthen the electoral process. These focused largely on how the participation of all Palestinians, including marginalized groups of youth and women, could be ensured in the elections.

The workshops were part of the project titled ‘Supporting resilience through dialogue’ run jointly by CMI and Masarat, funded by the EU. The aim is to promote consensus on ways to achieve a unified Palestine.

“We must continue our work in this direction. What has happened with the elections is a clear indicator for people that nothing will move forward without giving voice to all Palestinians in building a better future. It’s the only way to achieve unity and rebuild democracy in Palestine.”

This project is funded by the European Union.