x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Abbas experiences setback in West Bank vote

Voters reject Fatah council candidates in five of 11 main towns.

Palestinian Fatah supporters wave Fatah and national flags as they celebrate after voting in elections in Bethlehem.
Palestinian Fatah supporters wave Fatah and national flags as they celebrate after voting in elections in Bethlehem.

RAMALLAH, West Bank // Palestinian election officials said yesterday that voters choosing local councils in the West Bank had rebuffed candidates from president Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement in five of the 11 main towns, an apparent blow to the Palestinian leader.

Fatah had hoped to revive its flagging political legitimacy with Saturday's municipal elections, the first voting in the Palestinian Territories in more than six years. With its main rival Hamas boycotting the election, Fatah counted on a strong endorsement from voters.

Fatah won local council majorities in six towns, but lost in five others, a performance some said fell below expectations. In four of the towns where Fatah lost, including Ramallah, the seat of Mr Abbas's government, voters preferred independent lists dominated by Fatah breakaways. In a fifth, Bethlehem, never a Fatah stronghold, leftists and independents won.

A Fatah spokesman, Ahmed Assad, said yesterday that the results, also reported in the local media, signalled "huge support for the party and its programme".

However, analysts portrayed the outcome as a blow to Mr Abbas and Fatah's leadership. "The elections reflected people's disappointment in the leadership's ability to lead them to a common goal," said pollster Nader Said.

Elections were held in 93 West Bank towns and villages, with close to 55 per cent of 505,000 eligible voters casting ballots, election officials said.

In 261 smaller communities, local leaders were picked by consensus or there were no candidates.

The official results are expected to be released today.

The vote was held at a difficult time for Mr Abbas. His Palestinian Authority, the self-rule government that controls parts of the West Bank, has been plagued by a chronic cash crisis for months, struggling to pay the salaries of about 150,000 public-sector employees.

Fatah once dominated Palestinian politics but has been in disarray since the death of Mr Abbas's predecessor, Yasser Arafat, in 2004.

Even after being trounced by the Islamic militant group Hamas in parliamentary elections in 2006, Fatah largely failed to reform or reinvent itself.

Repeated attempts to reconcile with Hamas, which seized Gaza in 2007, have failed. There is also little chance of renewing meaningful talks with Israel's hardline government on setting up a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, the territories Israel seized in 1967.