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  Middle East & Africa
Elections in Rafah:
Heated Campaigning But Friendly Atmosphere
By Yasser AbuMoailek
Mid East Correspondent
Supporters of Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement

Over a crowded table at one of the many coffee shops that line the main street in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, a number of Palestinians – young and old – were preoccupied in a heated discussions about the "topic of the hour," as they call it.

Half-empty tea and coffee cups teemed up on the tables, as the space above "Abu Sultan's" coffee shop turned into a murky mixture of cigarette, hubbly-bubbly and car smoke, which increased as the deadline for opening the ballots of the
city's municipal elections approached.

Everyone was giving its own forecast of who was going to win, but all admitted that the results would not fall short of surprises, due to the fierce competition between the 68 candidates for the 15 seats of Rafah's Municipality.

The city of Rafah is one of the 84 Palestinian population centers that are included in the second stage of the local elections. 2519 candidates will compete for 906 seats, hoping to win some of the 400 thousand votes expected to take part in the elections on Thursday, May 5.

In every street corner one can find groups of Palestinians discussing the elections and the most suitable candidates they could vote for. This impoverished city, which sits on the borders with Egypt, was hardly-hit by many Israeli incursions, which left thousands homeless and many more unemployed.

"These elections are of paramount importance to us, because the 15 members of the municipal council will decide which neighborhoods will receive more
attention and when," said Emran Al Jamal, 36, a resident of Yebna refugee camp in the city.

Mr. Jamal's opinion was shared by some of the other men who were sitting with him at a street corner in the refugee camp, and expected an unprecedented voter vigor at the polling stations.

Children in the city of Rafah

The most notable dispute among the residents of Rafah was whether the candidate list of Hamas or Fatah movements would overrun the ballots. However, there was no decision on who would form the city's council.

Nidal Absi, 27, explained that Rafah holds many factions beside Hamas and Fatah, and during the course of the Palestinian uprising [Intifada], which broke out in September 2000, these small factions have gained a rather large popular support through their resistance to the Israeli forces.

"Despite Hamas and Fatah both have strong lists and enjoy a large popular base in Rafah, nobody can guarantee they'd win the elections unanimously. The other factions might be weaker or with less resources, but their campaign agendas are strong," he maintained, expecting Rafah's municipal council to be a assortment of members representing a number of factions.

At the house of Mohammed Al Lahwani, everybody was prepared to cast their votes; even the women.

Lahwani said that these elections would "set the records straight on the true size of a certain faction's popular base," stressing the importance of involving women in the voting process.

"They [the women] will participate according to their own will, and I will not force them to choose a certain candidate or list. I expect a wide feminine participation in these elections, unlike the presidential one."

Campaigning dynamically across Rafah, both Hamas and Fatah movements maintain their campaign to the final moments, promoting their campaign programs to the citizens and urging them to choose their candidates.

Abdul Fattah Barhoum, 42, a Fatah activist in Rafah, conceded that Hamas had achieved victory over Fatah in the first stage of the elections last January, as he handed out a pamphlet of Fatah's candidate list and campaign program to
one of the bypassers.

But he added he was certain of Fatah's victory in these elections, depending on the people's trust in the movement.

Some political analysts believe Palestinians have tilted more towards Hamas because it was not involved in the same accusations of corruption as Fatah, and because Fatah has been taking the blame for the PA's mistakes for all
these years.

Hamas' victory in the municipal elections in the West Bank and Gaza, meanwhile, has prompted Fatah into "removing the corrupt and unacceptable elements from the street and looking for better alternatives," according to one of the movement leaders in Gaza Strip.

Despite the heated campaigning, though, activists from both movements stress the good relations between each other and view any friction on the polling stations as a distant probability.

Regardless of the affiliation of the newly elected municipal council in Rafah, citizens all agree on the need to put the city's interests on top of the elected council's priorities, and remove all the campaign ads from the city streets.

Other Articles by Yasser AbuMoailek
    Korean FM's Visit to Palestine 'Historical'
    Gazan Weapons Dealer Reveals All
    "Reform and Change" Wins Hamas Elections
    Tunneling as a Life in Rafah, Gaza Strip
    Abu Mazen Liked by US, Israel as Logical ...

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.





  Other Articles by Yasser AbuMoailek
    Korean FM's Visit to Palestine 'Historical'
    Gazan Weapons Dealer Reveals All
    "Reform and Change" Wins Hamas Elections
    Tunneling as a Life in Rafah, Gaza Strip
    Abu Mazen Liked by US, Israel as Logical ...

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