The democratic "coup d'etat": in the normal course of events municipal elections rarely make international news, but in the case of those that took place last month in the Occupied Territories, the eyes of the world watched and wondered if they were witnessing the shape of things to come.

Author:Shahin, Mariam

IN ELECTIONS WIDELY LAUDED TO BE A TEST of the fledgling Palestinian democracy and future political trends, 84 municipal districts held their first independent, and largely unimpeded, elections since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza began in 1967.

Municipal elections across the West Bank and Gaza, the second of three such elections over a period of a year, were about services and internal Palestinian public policies, leaving mechanisms and strategies on confronting the occupation and its by-products largely unaddressed. In most cases Fatah, the ruling party of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas was squared off against the Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas, a longtime rival in the military struggle against Israel. Coalitions of leftist and secular parties ran a distant third in all but half-a-dozen districts, four of which gave them the leading votes.

Since its rise to the political fore in Palestinian politics in the early 1980s, which according to many was uncler Israeli tutelage, Hamas has never participated in any representative elections. However, its recent thundering entree surprised few, despite some questions about tactics and election irregularities.

According to semi-official tallies published by the Palestinian Central Elections Committee (CEC), Fatah won 45 of the 84 districts while Hamas won 23 with the remainder taken by leftists, tribalists and independents.

The CEC headquarters in Gaza City was attacked by Fatah youths after initial tallies showed Hamas had swept-up nearly all the municipal seats in two large Gaza cities, Rafah and Beit Lahia. Hamas indirectly accused the CEC of "smudging" results by announcing the number of municipalities captured by electoral lists rather than the number of popular votes that went towards the lists--which would have given Hamas an equal--if not higher number--than its main rival.

But with everyone busy focusing on the process of polling, the actual content of the elections and electoral themes seemed at times to be irrelevant. Candidates ran on "their good name" and their professional reputations, with very few of them having much of any great substance to add to the agenda.

In Beit Lahia in Gaza, Hamas spokesman Muthier Masri got the highest number of votes, chiefly because as a spokesperson for the party he is well known and highly visible. What Masri's qualifications for a municipal job are, other than his visibility, is still open to question.

In Qalqilia, former...

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