Written by: Fadi Al-Asa

As one of the local electoral process observers, which took place in the West Bank and not the Gaza Strip in two stages, citizens participated by choosing their representatives in village councils and municipalities. They knew that these elections took place in light of the continued absence of the procedural process for the legislative council and presidential elections since 2006, which had the elections be an opportunity to exercise the right to choose who represents the interests of the different societal groups at the local level.

Since the announcement of the holding of local elections in the West Bank, multiple polarisations begun to crystallise. Some of which depended on the political party as the core to participate in the elections while others depended on local fanaticism, clan and family. Others preferred to form lists based on a unified vision in which they participate to form lists called independent lists. They declared that serving the country they are nominated in is their priority and there is motivation to compete for seats in local councils and municipalities.

Some areas witnessed the emergence of a sharp polarisation between the electoral lists, as it was sometimes accompanied by attacks and sabotage of public properties at the moment of the results’ announcements. The dispute continued until the polarisation reached the stage of forming the Municipal Council. The problem with the Municipal Council, which makes us question the election’s conduct and the origin in its essence is to manage the conflict between the various societal components in a peaceful and smooth manner that avoids any attempt to threaten civil peace and internal strife. The voter in this case is the one who is held accountable and punishes these councils by supporting him or withholding votes according to the results and achievements of the previous stage.

The democratic experience at the Palestinian level remains limited given that it is geographically limited to certain governorates of the West Bank, not the Gaza Strip. Local elections did not complete the stages related to the legislative or presidential elections. This created a real threat to civil peace, which in my opinion, also included problems such as having priorities for workers in the field of consolidating democracy as a civil mechanism for managing local conflict and the transfer of power without exposing the existing social fabric to more divisions and fragmentation. This is especially true given that we are people still living under colonial occupation. For people living in this situation, civil peace and the unity of the community fabric are among the most important priorities as defence strategies for its survival and continuity.

First: Awareness of civic and democratic values. We sometimes mistake that the electoral process is based on the human rights system and that every member of society has the right to run and vote in accordance with the legal system that regulates this process. Additionally, it is a fact that individuals are equal in rights and in front of the opportunities available to them with the right to choose their representatives unconditionally. However, when translating this system of rights into real practice on the ground, we are usually shocked by severe discrimination against one community group over another. This is what we see when women announce their candidacy to participate in local elections, or if young people try to run for office. As a result of the lack of awareness of civic and democratic values, social obstacles that restrict their access appear. Even these restrictions are exploited by candidates to exclude them from the electoral process or at least reduce their chances of winning seats in local councils.

Second: Organic social ties. The local societal components still maintain organic ties such as the family and the clan. Therefore, the political imagination of the clan consists of the motives of control and independence with the legacy that the clan inherits through different generations. When elections are announced, these perceptions are repeated again and dominate the actions of the voters and the candidates. Closed doors are polluted with pure clan talk and distinguish themselves from others by what they belong to, which is the narrative group of stories and imagination inherited from the clan and its arrivals and tours. It has been criminalised that each family has its narrative, followed by the legitimacy that the opportunity has come for the clan to regain control through a modern component.  After the political and economic change, the municipality or the village council made it lose its heritage and position.

Third: The effectiveness and independence of the judiciary. Usually emerging or transitional democracies, and in our case where elections are limited to the minimum levels of representation, the judiciary and its authority are subject to part of the network of interests associated with the executive authority. This is also specific to the ruling group among them. Therefore, the functional capacity of the judicial system is paralysing or slow to a large extent in dealing with election issues. This sometimes result in a threat to public property or attacks on other candidates.

Fourth: The phenomenon of bullying. It results from the imbalance in the distribution of centres of power in local communities. These forces are entrenched due to the absence of the state and its services in the democratic process in certain areas. This increases the differences between societal groups making some of them become able to control and manage public affairs as an alternative to the state. This is practically reflected in local elections by making certain candidates incapable of losing as a result of their reputation for power and control over local levels. The possibility of their losing is miniscule placing the fate of the country and its civil peace face the option of "either us or the flood."

Fifth: The Elections Law. Despite the recent Palestinian law for the elections of local councils and bodies, it still suffers from shortcomings in managing the electoral process and its results. The decision-making centres are absent from societal discussions about legal amendments that they consider necessary to change. The first of these articles is the increase in the number of women participating in the management of local bodies and councils through the quota system. Reducing the age of candidacy is important to ensure the diversity of societal groups capable of creating harmony and fair representation. The emergence of lists in elections are characterised by kinship between the candidates. Therefore, legal amendments must be made to prevent related candidates from running on the same electoral list in order to open the way for the Palestinian public to have multiple options in choosing a candidate within open electoral lists without forcing voting for the entire list. The demand to reduce the current discount rate for electoral lists is a matter that can be relied upon by attracting representatives of collective groups that are considered socially marginalised. This will ensure their presence in the management of local councils and bodies.

There may be many reasons that make elections a threat to civil peace. It is important to search for the reasons, for the solutions and for the interventions. This will make elections a purely democratic process that is in harmony with modern political and societal values. This will also build a social structure capable of adopting a democratic system which is the basis for any attempt to reform and transition to a democratic state. This will even immunise society from the means of exploitation and bullying. The continuity and regularity of the democratic process makes the civil forces more effective for movement and change by building a societal vision based on rights and achieving justice in all fields, allowing the citizen to exercise his or her right without hindrance.

 

 

The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author and not necessarily the opinion of the Association or donor.