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WEST BANK: Palestinian Authority elects to skip local elections after all

June 10, 2010 | 12:30 pm

A surprise decision Thursday to postpone local elections in the West Bank drew prompt condemnation from a number of Palestinian political factions and organizations.

Critics say the the decision was made after Fatah, which controls the Palestinian Authority, failed to register any of its members for the elections in major towns. They said the government wanted to save Fatah from facing a situation similar to what happened in the 2006 legislative elections, when it lost to the Islamist movement Hamas.

The government of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad made the decision to "indefinitely postpone" the elections only 30 minutes before the deadline for candidates to register. The elections had been scheduled for July 17. The decision was made apparently without consulting the Central Elections Commission, which seem to have been caught by surprise.

The election panel issued a brief statement an hour after the government decision saying that it had been informed of the postponement decision and thanking all the people who helped prepare for the elections for their time and effort.

The Palestinian government had decided in April to hold local elections in the West Bank even though Hamas refused to allow them in the Gaza Strip, which it has controlled since June 2007.

Palestinian factions angered by the decision were quick to condemn the government accusing it of “wanting to tailor the elections and their results to Fatah’s size.”

“We are talking about a totalitarian party which refuses political pluralism and opposes practice of democratic life,” said Omar Assaf, speaking on behalf of the Palestinian People’s Party.

Khalida Jarrar, a lawmaker with the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, said the decision was made after “one party has failed to register its candidates on time.” The deadline to register ended at 4:00 pm local time Thursday. “Fatah did not register in any of the major cities, except Jericho, and even there its candidate withdrew at the last minute and formed his own list.”

Another lawmaker, Mustafa Barghouti, who heads the Palestinian National Initiative, said that the government did not give any reason for the postponement. He said none of the political factions, other than Fatah, were consulted.

“If the reason for the postponement was to preserve national unity, the election decision would not have been made in the first place,” Barghouti said. “It is regrettable that the decision was made in such a manner after tens of thousands of people have worked hard to prepare for the elections and after the CEC had spent a large sum of money in preparation for elections. This is a mockery of the people,” he said.

Assaf said that Fatah was now doing the same thing that Hamas had done when it refused to allow elections in the Gaza Strip. “It is not proper for someone who had protested Hamas decision to ban elections in Gaza to behave the same way,” he said.

—  Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank