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Controversy over elections decision continues

June 11, 2010 10:49 A.M. (Updated: June 11, 2010 7:19 A.M.)
Bethlehem/Ramallah - Ma'an - Justifications and condemnations continue to pour in following the surprise announcement Thursday afternoon that municipal elections set for July would be canceled in the interest of Palestinian unity and an end to the Gaza blockade.

Minister of Local Governance Kahled Al-Qauasmy weighed in late in the day, telling Ma’an Radio that the PA cabinet took the decision to delay the elections in light of the "updates on the international arena," and following requests from Arab states.

The justifications were the same as those outlined in an Elections Committee statement released hours after the decision was announced.

Principal among the reasons for the decision, Al-Qauasmy said, was the issue of unity.

At the outset, Hamas officials in Gaza had condemned the October decision by President Mahmoud Abbas to go to municipal elections on schedule, saying the move was irresponsible in light of continued division among the parties. The Gaza government refused to participate in the elections, saying that without unity there was not sufficient trust between sides to hold a vote that would be considered legitimate.

West Bank leaders, however, cited elections law and the need to maintain governmental legitimacy and insisted on going ahead with a vote.

Now, Al-Qauasmy said, the PA has "accepted the demands" from international actors and decided to make unity a priority before elections.

Answering a question on the timing of the decision, with observers calling into question the legitimacy of elections lists dominated by Fatah, and an increasing level of internal division in the party, Al-Qauasmy said "the decision was taken in coincidence with current events and for no other reasons."

Fatah official of Jerusalem affairs Hatem Abul Qader, however, said the delay was based on a request from independent figures - lead by billionaire Munib Al-Masri - currently working on a new unity deal with Hamas figures in Gaza, who asked for time to iron out a deal before elections were held.

"President Abbas and the Palestinian leadership are studying this situation and if we feel that there is a real chance ... that the coming period will witness reconciliation, then there will be no problem in delaying the elections for a specific period of time," the officials said.

"If delaying elections creates an atmosphere of conciliation, than Abbas will not hesitate to delay them as necessary," he added.

Like Al-Qauasmy, Abdul Qader denied the move had any relation to Fatah fears over an elections loss, saying the allegation was "untrue," and adding that "Fatah believes in the democratic process, we do not have any reservations on any results that come out of the ballot boxes whether for Fatah or against it."

Countering claims at Fatah weakness, the party official said field visits in Jerusalem showed the "Fatah situation is good," and that there was "no reason to fear elections results."

Detractors

Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and head of the Palestinian National Initiative party, called the decision "unacceptable and harmful to the democratic process."

Official with the Palestine People's Party Bassam As-Salhi, speaking only hours before the cabinet decision was announced, said "local elections should not be made into a political issue," saying that rather, they should be held in the context of local development. "

The non-governmental Civilian Election Monitoring Committee joined the growing chorus of condemnations, calling the postponement of elections "illegal and non-democratic."

In a statement, the committee expressed "deep concerns" over the cabinet decision, reminding officials that elections postponements must by approved by the Central Elections Commission, and added that they cannot be postponed by more than four weeks, a proviso initially intended for use in avoiding technical issues.

Only after a request to the elections committee, the group said, could the cabinet vote to postpone a vote scheduled by presidential decree.

The committee called on Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and his cabinet to adhere to the law, and retract their decision to postpone, calling the move a "clear violation of Elections Law number 10/2005, article 5."

Warning that the move could spark a "new cycle of political polarization and social division," the group said the government must stand firm on its announced date for a vote.

Calling on all factions and civil society groups to rally against the decision, the monitoring committee said Palestinian society must put pressure on the cabinet and demand an adherence to the law.

The Elections Monitoring Committee is made up of a network of local and international NGOs, including the Arab World Democracy and Electoral Monitor (Al-Marsad), the Panorama Centre, Shams Centre, Al-Maqdesi Institute, Sharek Centre, Agricultural Relief Committee, and Palestinian Centre for Peace and Democracy.
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