Hamas claims it is ‘ready’ to hold first elections in Gaza in 18 years

Nada al-Taher

The National  /  September 28, 2023

Militant group says there is cross-factional consensus in favour of polls and calls on Palestinian Authority to take next steps.

Gaza’s ruling militant group Hamas has said there is a cross-factional agreement to hold elections in the besieged enclave, which would be the first in 18 years.

Speaking to local Palestinian outlet Quds News, Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said a meeting was held with Palestine’s Central Elections Committee and the armed factions in the Gaza Strip.

“There was a consensus that the atmosphere was very positive in the Gaza Strip and the conditions were completely favourable for holding these elections,” Qassem said. Hamas is “ready” for the polls, he added.

Qassem put the onus on the Palestinian Authority to take the next steps forward.

“We hope that the election date will be set as soon as possible and this matter requires the government to quickly issue a decision in this regard,” he said.

In August, Hamas leaders pushed for holding municipal elections for the first time since 2006 in Gaza. At the time, Abdel Latif al-Qanou, spokesman for the militant group, said that elections are a “natural right” of Palestinians.

The CEC said it was waiting for approval from the cabinet to hold polls, without specifying when they might take place.

Gazan researcher Ahmad Bassyouni says although similar promises were made by Hamas officials of holding elections in the past, there might be a glimmer of hope this time.

“There are student council elections that are scheduled to be held in April and with every university in Gaza belonging to one faction or another,” he told The National. “If they’re held, the elections will provide some momentum for municipal elections.”

If municipal elections are held in Gaza, and Fatah prevails, Bassyouni believes the Palestinian Authority will be more inclined to hold legislative and presidential polls it has been promising since 2021, that have been cancelled with authorities citing Israel’s prevention of voting in Jerusalem.

In 2021 pre-election polls showed that Palestinian President and head of the ruling Fatah party, Mahmoud Abbas, was likely to lose in a presidential vote.

Although any municipal elections in Gaza require cross-factional approval, Bassyouni believes finding a compromise should be simple.

“They really don’t need all this tactical manoeuvring,” he said. “Every faction can nominate a candidate and a vote can be held and then if there are any disputes, they can be sorted out later. I’m not sure why it’s taking all this time and planning.”

Nada al-Taher is a senior foreign reporter at The National