93% of Palestinians register to vote in election, amid claims of voter tampering

Ahead of plans to hold first national legislative elections in 15 years, many observers remain skeptical that the vote will take place

Members of Gaza's Central Elections Commission's field team register a local woman to the electoral roll, at the main road of Gaza City, February 10, 2021 (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
Members of Gaza's Central Elections Commission's field team register a local woman to the electoral roll, at the main road of Gaza City, February 10, 2021 (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

More than 93 percent of eligible Palestinian voters registered to take part in the scheduled Palestinian elections in May before voter registration closed on Tuesday, the Palestinian Central Elections Commission said Wednesday.

“The stage of updating the electoral register has ended with excellent rates indicating awareness of the rights of citizenship and people’s thirst for the ballot box; much respect to our great people,” Palestinian Authority Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh wrote on Twitter.

More than 2.6 million had registered by the deadline late Tuesday, said the Central Elections Committee’s Farid Ta’amallah.

The current Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, was elected in the last Palestinian presidential election in 2005. The last legislative elections were held in 2006, and resulted in a landslide victory for Abbas’s main opponents, the Hamas terror group.

Members of Gaza’s Central Elections Commission’s field team register a local coffee vendor to the electoral roll, in Gaza City, February 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

After 15 years in which Palestinians did not have a single national election, Abbas issued a formal election decree in mid-January, setting a legislative election for May 22.

Observers are skeptical, however, that elections will actually take place. Abbas has vowed to hold elections several times since his four-year term ostensibly expired in 2009.

But repeated attempts to hold votes for president and parliament have flopped, largely due to the mistrust between rivals Fatah and terror group Hamas, and their inability to agree on terms.

The closing of voter registration on Tuesday night was marred by accusations that some voters’ polling places had been quietly changed without their knowledge for politically motivated reasons.

In Hebron — widely seen as a Hamas stronghold — some voters complained to the Central Elections Commission that their voting sites had been switched without their knowledge to far-off places, outside the city or close to settlements.

“The manipulation of polling places is the beginning of fraud and it gives a bad indication of the integrity of the elections. The transfer targeted only one political party, and some of them were transferred to polling stations near the settlements,” Hamas legislator Nayef Rajoub said in a statement to Hamas media.

The Central Elections Commission said in a statement that it had raised an official complaint with the Palestinian Authority Public Prosecutors’ office.

“This is a way of deterring people to vote, moving their sites far away in an attempt to target those against Abbas,” said Dmitri Diliani, a spokesperson for the Democratic Reform Current, a Fatah breakaway movement affiliated with exiled former Gaza security chief Mohammad Dahlan

Hamas’s victory in the 2006 parliamentary vote led to a brief, tense unity government between the two sides. The international community boycotted the government, with many countries refusing to work with the terror group.

Tensions between the two sides exploded into open war in 2007, leading to a bloody struggle for control of the Gaza Strip. Fatah lost and was largely expelled from the coastal enclave to the West Bank, where Abbas announced an emergency government by executive fiat.

Since 2007, two rival Palestinian governments have held sway in the West Bank and Gaza. Abbas’s Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority enjoys limited self-rule in the West Bank, while Hamas controls the Gaza Strip.

File: Hamas’s then-new deputy leader Salah al-Arouri (seated, left) and Fatah’s Azzam al-Ahmad (seated, right) sign a reconciliation deal in Cairo on October 12, 2017, as the two rival Palestinian movements work to end their decade-long split following negotiations overseen by Egypt. (AFP/Khaled Desouki)

Several reconciliation agreements since then have fallen through, and unlike in previous election pushes, no reconciliation agreement preceded this election decree.

Fatah officials have previously said Hamas’s participation in any Palestinian government would depend on the terror group’s adoption of the PLO platform, which renounces violence and recognizes Israel’s right to live in peace and security. Hamas, which avowedly seeks Israel’s destruction, has yet to signal any intention to adopt the platform.

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