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21st October, 2012

Yesterday, the West Bank held its first elections for six years. Taking a walk around the old city here in Nablus, young kids were handing out yellow flyers with pictures of candidates taking part.

Elections have been delayed numerous times over the last few years due to escalating disagreements between the two main parties in the region – Fatah (founded by Yasser Arafat, it recognises Israel and wants to work towards a two state solution) and Hamas (meaning “zeal” in Arabic – supports armed resistance and the destruction of Israel although this has cooled in recent years).

The disagreements are such that Hamas – which won elections last time round and has control of the Gaza Strip – has refused to take part in these elections which, because of this, extend only to the West Bank, not to Gaza.

Here in Nablus, there were three parties yesterday: Fatah, a far left party and an former Fatah politician, now running as an independent and expelled from the main party. The latter – Ghassan Shakaa – seems to have emerged victorious here, another blow to Fatah, which has been experiencing declining support of late.

It was hard to ignore the elections here yesterday. There was pride amongst those I met who had voted – demonstrated by holding up their index finger, the tip of which was covered in black (votes are cast by giving a stamp of your finger print). At 7pm the minarets of the city’s mosques called out, not with a call to prayer (Adhan in Arabic) but with the revelation that the polls would stay open another hour. And last night, supporters of Shakaa celebrated on the streets beeping their horns and shouting.

Despite the positive fact that elections have happened, it’s not entirely good news. Turnout was low. French and German diplomats monitoring the election came into Project Hope yesterday afternoon and told us turnout was low – around the 25% mark. When I asked locals about the reasons for this, there were many answers including the olive harvest (currently going on) and the Eid holiday (which starts next week).

But the overriding issue seems to be disillusionment with politicians. The absence of Hamas as well as infighting within Fatah has left many Palestinians wondering whether any of this will actually make a difference at all.

Political disillusionment is a familiar picture for a British visitor but, in a place where effective politics could make all the difference, it is particularly depressing. As Hakim (the Director of Project Hope) said yesterday, “here in Palestine, we are the news, we are all political.”


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