The Defeat of the Ruling Fatah Movement and the Victory of HAMAS:
Palestinian Legislative Elections / Tsunami
25 January 2006
Adnan A. Musallam
Lecturer in History
Department of Humanities
Bethlehem University - Bethlehem
Wednesday 25 January 2006 was hailed by all Palestinians as the “Day of Liberty” and “A Palestinian Wedding Celebrations.” Physician Mustafa Barghouthi, a candidate who headed the Independent Palestinian List, described the elections as “pure and democratic” and with self-confidence asserted that “ Palestine was teaching the Middle East a lesson in democracy and elections.”
Thousands of Palestinians, estimated at 980,000, or 77 percent of eligible registered voters, flooded polling stations in a festive mood to mark their ballots while supporters of various faction and independent candidates handed out campaign pamphlets to sway undecided voters at polling station gates which were guarded by armed Palestinian police.
When polls closed at 7:00 p.m. that day and counting began, it was generally assumed that the ruling Fatah Movement, which led Palestinian struggle for independence since 1965, was leading and would win over HAMAS (The Islamic Resistance Movement) by a very narrow margin. Exit polls undertaken by major organizations such as that of Birzeit University gave Fatah a slight lead.
What pollsters and politicians did not know was that next morning a Palestinian election Tsunami would take place turning upside down all pollsters' estimates and projections and Fatah's guarded optimism of a close victory over HAMAS, as well as the Palestinian political map and scene.
By noon Thursday the 26 th , however, HAMAS supporters were parading W! est Bank and Gaza Strip cities, towns, villages and rural areas to celebrate an overwhelming unexpected victory over Fatah Movement. For to the contrary of all earlier polls, HAMAS had captured a large majority of seats in the Palestinians legislative elections. With 95 percent of ballots counted by 7:00 p.m. Thursday, the Central Election Commission announced that HAMAS captured 76 seats of the 132 seat Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) while Fatah captured only 43 seats.
Earlier in the day Prime Minister Ahmad Qure‘ and his cabinet submitted their resignation on the ground that election results were the choice of the people. And if election results are as expected and correct then President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) should ask the largest faction in the newly elected PLC, HAMAS, to form a new government. It is to the credit of President Ab! u Mazen that under his leadership of Palestinians, since the death of President Arafat in November 2004, municipal, presidential and now legislative elections have taken place freely and without constraints thus putting Palestinians in the forefront of democratic regimes in the Middle East.
On the other hand the Fatah Movement has been the ruling faction in Palestine since the return of President Arafat to Palestine from exile in July 1994 and the setting up of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). However, the Movement has been marred with internal dissention and corruption. The PNA security infrastructure was totally destroyed in 2002 during Israeli incursions and re-occupation of the West Bank causing its demise and gradual loss of confidence in it from the public and especially that the authority in the last few weeks has been unable to p! ut a stop to chaos in Palestinian streets resulting from the proliferation of armed gangs involved in killing and kidnapping and who happened to be associated with the Fatah Movement.
On the other hand and since the late 1970's HAMAS has been building an infrastructure of clinics, charitable organizations, mosques and schools throughout Gaza Strip and West Bank thus winning over to its side thousands of committed followers of Palestinians who see in Fatah and the PNA corruption and favoritism and in HAMAS the road to salvation and liberation.
Americans, Israelis and Europeans on their part did not help the situation by constantly warning Palestinians of dire consequences if HAMAS wins elections and becomes the majority in the PLC. These threats were seen by Palestinians as a clear interference in Palestinian internal affairs and thus causing massive anti- American, anti-Israeli backlash that was translated into massive pro-HAMAS ballots.
In other words, these outside threats and the rumors that Americans financed Fatah election campaigns only helped in HAMAS' march toward victory.
It appears that the victorious HAMAS would like to form coalition with Fatah. But this latter refuses preferring to stay in opposition in the PLC. It could be that HAMAS will have to form a government without any other partner.
To transform itself from an Islamic resistance movement, pre- occupied with the! idea of Islamization of society and the liberation of the whole of Palestine from the Israelis, to a pragmatic ruling body for the first time since its formation in early 1988, is not an easy task. It has to accommodate itself to new realities in intra-Palestinian politics, Palestinians-Israeli politics and world politics. Espousing Islamization mottos and ideologies will not suffice. It would only alienate people. HAMAS' success in Palestinian streets will be watched carefully by all sides concerned and will be judged by HAMAS' achievements in the educational, economic, social and political spheres.
The impact of HAMAS' victory on Palestinian society and on Palestinian Israeli relations is unpredictable. already upheavals are taking place within the Fatah Movement and armed supporters are flexing their muscles in Palestinian streets by demanding the purging of Fatah Central Committee members responsible for the defeat and the resignation of all Fatah candidates who ran as independent candidates and the rejection of any attempts by HAMAS to include Fatah Movement in a national coalition insisting that Fatah remains in opposition as it goes at the same time through self-evaluation to pinpoint the factors that led to its defeat.
Despite HAMAS' assurance to Palestinians of its intentions not to impose its own Islamization vision, secular oriented Palestinians, both Christians and Muslims, who are represented by Fatah and other Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) factions, are very nervous and apprehensive about a future under HAMAS. Will HAMAS impose its own Islamist vision of a S! hari'ah (Islamic code) based Palestinian society in economic, educational, social and political spheres which includes prohibition of integration of sexes in schools and universities, imposition of Islamic hijab (special dress) on Palestinian women, prohibition of alcohol etc.... and many Palestinians ask this question. Since the liberalism of President Mahmoud Abbas and the ruling Fatah Movement led to free municipal ,presidential and legislative elections which brought HAMAS gradually to power, will HAMAS renege the democratic game when it assumes power and eventually overthrow the liberal nationalist regime of President Abbas and the PLO and to establish instead its own vision of a Palestinian Islamic society.
HAMAS' victory has a long lasting impact on Israeli society as well. prior to the elections, political analysts, both Palestinians and Israelis, were predicting that a HAMAS' victory will only strengthen the extreme right elements in Israeli society who are represented by former prime minister Netanyaho's Likud party who will fully exploit this traumatic event of HAMAS' victory in the Israeli national elections of this coming March to its own advantage. HAMAS' leaders statements about their rejection of Israel 's existence but their willingness to arrange with Israel a long term truce or armistice in accordance with Islamic concepts of war and peace only strengthen extremists in Israeli society. Israeli leadership represented by the centrist party "qadima" of Prime Minister Sharon who lies in a deep coma in hospital and his Acting Prime Minister Olmert insist that HAMAS must recognize the existence of the state of Israel and lay its arms first before Israel c! an talk with it.
HAMAS' unprecedented victory is causing the jitters in both Palestinian and Israeli societies. what lies ahead is unclear and unpredictable. Difficult days are ahead for Palestinians as they try to heal the national wounds resulting from the Palestinian elections tsunami. The world is focusing their attention on Palestinians as they attempt to reconcile the secular and the religious in their society. It is not an easy task even though it is the only way. Otherwise, troubled times lie ahead for the people in the region.