Will Hamas hold or postpone its internal elections ?

Hamas's leader in the Gaza Strip Yahya Al-Sinwar (Atia Darwish - APA Images)

Adnan Abu Amer

Middle East Monitor  /  January 25, 2021

An important development has occurred recently in the Palestinian arena and it is related to the increasing talk of holding internal elections, which may take place in the coming weeks, coinciding with the legislative and presidential elections in May and July, and talk about the difficulty of holding two elections within a short period of time. It is true that Hamas is still silent regarding how it can hold these elections at the same time, but there is increased talk about the possibility of it postponing its internal elections in order not to affect its preparations for running in the general Palestinian elections.

Surprisingly, well-informed sources in the Hamas movement revealed that it is leaning towards not postponing its soon-to-be held internal elections and holding them at their scheduled time. This is following discussions that took place within its leadership and legislative frameworks. However, those calling for postponing the elections justified their demands by stating the difficulty of preparing for the general elections and the holding the internal elections at the same time.

Well-informed sources in Hamas confirmed to Middle East Monitor that “the movement is going to hold its internal elections, whether during the upcoming weeks, or they may postpone them based on its internal system that sorts the consultative and executive leadership level from the base to the leadership of the political bureau. It has already taken several internal measures in several areas to conduct its elections, although delaying the rest of the election measures depends on considerations of the movement’s best interest.”

The sources added: “The movement’s General Shura Council has categorically rejected the proposal to postpone its internal elections, but the leadership of the movement will wait for the results of the Cairo talks with Fatah. In the event that the talks are completed, and they head to elections, the chances of the elections being postponed may be stronger, as the movement is concerned with arranging its affairs to achieve good results in the general elections. The new leadership will have to choose how it will enter the elections, the extent of its participation, list of candidates, the lists it will support, and the alliances it will make, which requires great effort and may lead to the postponement of its internal elections, which everyone agreed should be held at their scheduled time.”

The movement holds its internal elections every four years. It last held its elections in 2017 and it is expected that the next internal elections will begin in early February. The movement is expected to shorten its election period to a month and a half instead of four months in order for the new leadership to prepare to run in the general elections.

The preparatory committees for the internal elections have actually started the arrangements for the elections, as they take place in several stages, based on the “geographical regions”. The internal Hamas elections are divided into three regions: the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and the region known as “abroad” which is the area outside the Palestinian territories.

At the moment, three candidates are competing for the position of head of the Hamas political bureau, the current head, Ismail Haniyeh, his deputy, Saleh Al-Arouri, and the former head, Khaled Meshaal.

Palestinian circles close to Hamas claimed that prior agreements were reached between Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, stipulating that Haniyeh be elected for a second term as head of the movement, while the position of head of Hamas abroad would be assigned to Meshaal, and Al-Arouri would continue to supervise it in the West Bank, and continue to be the deputy head of the political bureau. Meanwhile, the current head of Hamas in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, is considered the strongest candidate for re-election for a second term in light of the large support he enjoys from the movement’s military leadership.

Press and media leaks about Hamas’ internal elections are increasing, although they are still secret, and its electoral lists have not yet been published. Moreover,

Though there is no accurate information about how Hamas’ leadership is elected, we do know the movement customarily votes for its General Shura Council and it, in turn, elects the political bureau, which is the highest executive authority in Hamas. At a later stage, the leader of the movement is elected from among the members of this office, the number of its members remain unknown, because the identity of most of its affiliates remains secret, with the exception for a few famous leaders.

Hamas leaders do not nominate themselves for leadership positions, instead, the elected Shura Council members nominate whomever they deem appropriate to head the political bureau on the day of the election, and whoever wins the majority of their votes becomes the leader of the movement. Therefore, the decision to elect its leader is that of the Shura Council and is not made by a particular member of the movement nor is it dependent on the will of any party.

Global players are keeping an eye on Hamas’ international elections and discussing the possible outcomes, as the outcomes of these secret ballots will impact Palestinian reconciliation efforts and Palestinian legislative and presidential elections, which Hamas will be putting its full weight into.

Adnan Abu Amer is the head of the Political Science Department at the University of the Ummah in Gaza