Middle East & Africa
Victory for Islamic Resistance Group
"Reform and Change" Wins Hamas Elections
Its Welfare Program Gains Broad Suppor in Gaza Polls
By Yasser AbuMoailek
Mid East Correspondent
Leaning against a wall across from a polling station in the town of Deir El Balah, Adel Saqer stared at the final results, shocked right down to his feet. "It cannot be possible. We were sure Fatah would win, but Hamas swept the polls," he said. The Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, swept the municipal elections of Jan. 27, 2005 in 10 municipal councils in Gaza, winning 75 of the 118 seats, officials at the local elections commission said.Hamas, which is on the United States' terrorist groups list, boycotted the January 9 presidential elections, which led to the election of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) to succeed the late Yasser Arafat as head of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Since the establishment of the PA, Hamas has acted as an opposition party, but when its candidates assume office they will have to act as a party responsible for the Palestinian people's daily life. This will be the biggest hold on power assumed by Hamas so far.
|A Hamas member|
Hamas candidates, whose campaign focused on fighting the corruption they claim exists in the municipal councils run by Fatah, ran in the elections under the slogan "change and reform." "I didn't vote for Hamas candidates because I like the movement," said Abdel Ghani Shehadeh, from Al Zawaydeh Village in the Gaza Strip, after leaving the polling station there. "I'm just fed up with the corruption of officials and wanted to see clean people in their place." However, editor of the Palestinian newspaper Al Ayyam Munir Abu Rezeq argues that the people's vote for Hamas didn't indicate a preference for armed struggle over the diplomacy of PLO chief Abu Mazen. "This is not about the Oslo Accords or the Road Map, it is about who offers services for the people," he said. Hamas has a long-established reputation among Palestinians as a benevolent movement, with many social and welfare organizations working under its umbrella and providing humanitarian assistance for those hammered by four years of violence.
|Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen)|
During the local elections that were held in the West Bank in December, the election commission announced the winners by name rather than political party, and because many candidates had run as independents, it was difficult to determine precisely how many of the 26 local councils that were elected were won by Hamas. Fatah leaders said they had won sixteen councils, while Hamas leaders claimed to have won twelve. But Mohammed Sharaqa, a law professor at Al Najah University in Nablus, estimated that Hamas won nine councils, with Fatah gaining 13 or 14, and the remainder as yet unclear. He described the results as "a very strong showing" for Hamas, since, he said, the contested localities had been considered Fatah strongholds. "No faction can now claim absolute power in Palestinian society after these elections," Sharaqa said. However, while the results were a blow to Fatah, they also raise the prospect that Hamas will join parliamentary elections in July and thereby shift closer to the political mainstream. "The results showed that our people are insisting Hamas take part in the upcoming ballot," said the movement's Gaza spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri. In the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun, the area most hard-hit by the Israeli forces, mainly in retaliation to firing home-made Qassam rockets at Israeli settlements and towns by Hamas' military wing, the movement won 11 of the town's 13 council seats. During Hamas' victory celebration in Beit Hanoun, Nizar Rayyan, one of the movement's leaders, promised to restore the town's former prosperity under a Hamas-run council, referring to the destruction of most of the town's arable land and plantations by numerous Israeli incursions. Political analysts say that Rayyan's remarks hint at a possible shift in Hamas' militant approach in favor of a possible truce and the rebuilding of the crumbling Palestinian infrastructure, in order to regain people's trust and support. "The harsh Israeli retaliation to Hamas' attacks and rocket firing cost people their homes, their source of livelihood and sometimes their lives, so in some areas like Beit Hanoun, people have become disgruntled with Hamas and often intercept militants who want to fire
rockets," said columnist and political analyst Hani Habib. "Hamas realized that and wanted to change that view among people, so it got involved in local elections and started a political dialogue with the Palestinian Authority, in parallel with a decrease in military attacks under a possible truce." Following the announcement of local election results in Gaza last Friday, Minister of Local government and head of the local election commission Jamal Shobaki said that the second round of elections would be held on April 28, giving around 50 percent of the population of the West Bank and Gaza an opportunity to exercise their democratic rights.
Hamas Successful in Local Elections
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Yasser AbuMoailek, who is Certified Professional Translator between Arabic and English, serves as Middle East correspondent for The Seoul Times. He also work as a journalist and feature writer at the International Press Center in Gaza Strip. As a journalist he monitors the situation in the Middle East, especially the Palestinian territories.