Palestinian Court Postpones Long-Awaited Local Elections, Claiming “Procedural Problems”

A Palestinian court on Thursday postponed next month’s local elections, the first large-scale elections in a decade, due to “procedural problems,” especially over questions of candidate eligibility and the participation of Jerusalem residents in the vote.

“The administrative decision [i.e., the elections] must deal with the homeland as one unit, and with the faltering measures in Jerusalem and the procedural problems in Gaza, the decision was taken to postpone,” wrote the court, which is based in Ramallah, where Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party rule.

During the past week, courts in Gaza have disqualified nine of the 25 slates of Fatah candidates, meaning that Fatah would have been unable to participate in those areas. Fatah argued that the court system in Gaza is illegal and called the disqualification of the lists an effort to disrupt the election.

Hamas boycotted the previous municipal elections in 2012. The last time both parties participated in local elections was 2006, when Hamas upset Fatah, setting the stage for a coup the following year, when Hamas ejected Fatah from Gaza.

The court has delayed the elections until December 21, but plans to reconvene to reconsider the matter later this month.

“This is a political decision,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said. “We reject the decision to cancel the election and call on everyone to reject it.”

“Fatah found that the [Palestinian] Central Election Committee was too clean, so they went to the went to the court” in order to postpone the election, Voice of Israel Radio correspondent Gal Berger reported Thursday. “In the West Bank there is 1 Law. His name is Mahmoud Abbas. Not the Supreme Court nor the Basic Law of Palestine. Now the question is if [Abbas] considers postponing the elections to be in his interest. This will be determined …”

Fatah leaders told the Times of Israel that they planned to hold the elections anyway. Munir al-Jaghoub, the head of Fatah’s Information Department, said that the court’s decision was in response to a complaint filed by lawyer Nael al-Houh, of the Palestinian Bar Association.

Polls show that many Palestinians want Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to resign. He was elected in 2005 to a four-year term and has ruled by decree since 2009. In April, Abbas established a new court to further consolidate his power. The Times reported last week that the PA saw the municipal elections as a first step toward holding new presidential and national elections within two years, which would legitimize the rule of Abbas (who is 81 years old) or his successor.

Candidates from both parties have complained that they are being harassed by authorities under control of their rivals. Veteran Palestinian affairs correspondent Khaled Abu Toameh reported last month that both the PA and Hamas were seeking to silence critics ahead of  planned municipal elections. The ongoing crackdown on journalists in the West Bank and Gaza reflects the insecurity of their ruling authorities, Abu Toameh charged. “The less politically secure they feel, the more they strip Palestinian journalists of their ability to report how things really stand,” he wrote.

Grant Rumley, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, warned in May that the West’s refusal to challenge the growing corruption and autocratic rule under Abbas “could have a devastating effect on the long- prospects for a viable Palestinian state.”

[Photo: AP Archive / YouTube ]