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Report: Palestinian territories

Palestinians turn away from big parties in local election campaign

Reuters/Ammar Awad

Heading towards the municipal elections on 20 October, many Palestinians are looking to break away from traditional party politics to improve their situation.

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In the midst of an economic crisis, fighting between the traditional parties of Fatah and Hamas has resulted in political stagnation at a national level, making nationwide elections look unlikely to happen any time soon.

Dossier: Gaza 2009

As such, these municipal elections, the first since 2006, are crucial.

Qasem, aged 31, runs a spice shop in the centre of Nablus, one of the West Bank’s commercial centres. He explained that targeting corruption is one of the things motivating people to vote.

“The problems of Nablus are really the problems of every town in the West Bank," he says. "The municipal councils are all in debt, yet they’re spending money they don’t have and we don’t know where it’s coming from. The key is to try and find people who are honest, who don’t get corrupted by the system.”

But the biggest issue driving many to the polls is the economic crisis, even if the municipal councils have limited powers to combat the problem.

With the Palestinian economy pegged to Israeli prices via the Paris protocols, people are angry that prices have spiked even as wages have stayed the same.

For many people, such as Khalid, a taxi driver in Nablus, the increased price of fuel has driven him out of work:

“There’s basically no work," he complains. "I’m only making 40 shekels per day.”

This sum is roughly eight euros per day but the price of basic provisions has jumped. Local merchants say a kilo of tomatoes previously cost around two and a half shekels, but now can cost up to 10.

Like many on the streets of Nablus, Khalid and Qasam said they intend to vote for a group headed by former mayor Ghassan Shak’a, a former member of President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah who has chosen to run as an independent candidate.

Fatah dissident groups look to play a huge role in the elections, with the movement's dominance of the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation seen as part of the overall problems in the West Bank.

In Ramallah, the home of the Palestinian Authority, there are no all-Fatah lists running in the municipal elections, although Fatah affiliates can be found among the candidates.

Jack Saadeh, a member of Ramallah’s Sons of the Town list, says that while their list is a deliberate break from party politics, this not intended as a political act.

“Maybe we’re saying that politically we’re not succeeding in any part, with our enemies or in the region generally and the least we can do is provide better services for our society,” he explains.

A boycott by the Islamist party, Hamas, as well as the vote only being held in the area behind the Separation Wall erected by Israel in 2002, means that voting will only take place in the West Bank and not Gaza or Jerusalem.

The owner of a Nablus soap factory, who wished to remain anonymous, explained why he won’t be voting tomorrow:

“The election is sin in my opinion as it’s part of the Oslo agreement. So many people are not going to participate because of this opinion. It’s very sad to keep the situation like this. We have to come back to unity.”

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