Palestinian Elections Postponed Again
Postponing elections for the fourth time, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recently overturned the ruling of the Palestinian Supreme Court and issued a presidential decree further delaying local elections without setting a new date.
The last Palestinian elections were held in January 2006.
Just weeks after announcing that, in spite of the stalled reconciliation process between Hamas and Fatah, elections would be held in the West Bank, Abbas declared a reversal of that decision in a recent presidential decree.
Issuing the same reason he gave for delaying the vote earlier this year, he stated “We have decided to postpone the local elections until better conditions are available to enable the election commission to work in all parts of the country.”
Senior Hamas official, Ismail Alashkar responded to the decree, stating, “We agreed in the Cairo (reconciliation) agreement that all elections, local and parliamentary, would be held after forming the government. We welcome Abbas’ decree in postponing them.”
Following a decision to postpone elections in June, Palestinian civil society took the case to the Palestinian Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the Palestinian right to elections and declared that government postponement of the elections is illegal and that elections should therefore take place on their scheduled date of October 22, 2011.
The recent decision of President Abbas to further delay elections elicited astonished responses from Palestinian civil society groups, which argue that the Palestinian right to an election is a democratic right and should not be tied to the success or failure of the reconciliation process.
In a statement recently published in Al Quds newspaper, the Observatory of the Arab World to Democracy and Elections (MARSAD) referred to Abbas’ decision as a disappointment, stating “Postponing the local elections has put the credibility of the Palestinian political leadership in a hard position and has negatively affected public participation in the election process.”
Many of the PLO member organizations, including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Palestinian People’s Party, came together to hold an urgent meeting in Ramallah following Abbas’ decree, where they discussed the decision and stated that it was against basic Palestinian law as well as against the spirit and letter of the Supreme Court decision.
The parties also accused Abbas of making the decision single-handedly without consulting the council or any other parties or civil society organizations. Postponing a democratic election requires collective management and decision as well as the voice of the people, declared civil society groups.
The various political parties and civil society groups argued that this election is a democratic process guaranteed to its citizens by basic Palestinian law and as such it is guaranteed all of the time and is not contingent on the absence of turmoil between existing political factions. Palestinian civil society, pointing at the recent presidential decree, angrily asked that if Abbas is able to simply overturn the ruling of the Palestinian Supreme Court and its defense of the people’s rights, then what is the purpose of the Court?
The delay is not of paramount concern to either Hamas or Fatah, but has wider implications for other parties as well as Palestinian civil society. The terms of all local councils and municipalities ended in December 2008. However nearly three years later, they are still in office. In some cases, such as Hebron, local elections have not been held since 1976 and many political positions are now granted by appointment rather than democratic election. A further delay of the democratic process will only exacerbate this trend.
Abbas also mentioned the Palestinian September bid at the UN as a justification of further delay of the elections. However, wider political actions and the pursuit of UN membership or the recognition of statehood should not come at the expense of the people’s rights, nor should it delay implementation of a democratic election.
In a democracy, the right to elections should not be marred by the existence of political problems. The right of the people is non-negotiable and should not be postponed while Hamas and Fatah wrestle their grievances to the ground in an effort to reconcile two separate political ideologies. The Palestinian people have a right to decide their government and they have a right to decide it now. No more bukrah inshallah (tomorrow, God-willing).
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