Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Real Democracy in the Middle East (no it is not Israel)
Even before I reached Ramallah standing at the Qualandia checkpoint there were posters for the election everywhere. The service taxi's (a hybrid between a bus and a taxi) were shrines for various political factions. They were covered in stickers and posters inside and out. Flags and political murals likewise decorated the service's. Different service's played different songs supporting various factions, in a style that one could easily dance to. Even as the service's were taking off campaigners would stick more stickers on the windows.
In Ramallah the election fever was even more extreme. You could barely find a single shop that didn't have a candidate in the window (sometimes 10). From cafe's to hardware stores, to mainstream clothing and video outlets, they all presented their candidates. Banners were hanging every few meters across the streets with different factions represented. Cars, like the service taxi's, were covered to the brim in material. Some of them were even loudhailing the songs that I heard in the Taxi.
Houses down back streets were being used as campaigning centres as everyone set out promoting their material. Newspapers were being handed out on the street as well as pamphlets saying what the candidates stood for. The posters carried various symbols of Palestinian struggle with handcuffed pictures of candidates being a promotional point in material. Many of the posters also had pictures of Arafat and people who had been assassinated by Israel. Whilst in Australia most posters in the elections are limited to the smiling face of the candidate (or the leader of the party) with no description whatsoever, these posters had content.
Whilst I cannot read Arabic they had a fair few words on them, long slogans at the very least. Those that I had translated contained demands such as the right of return for Palestinian Refugees, and for a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem. There were also several small rallies that were taking place.
In the city square Fatah was holding a rally of about 150 people whilst only a few blocks away Hamas held a marching band of about 60 young people mostly about 6-15. I don't know enough about the young people here to comment on their political awareness, although I have my reservations about this.
Even in the small town of Bil'lin the town was plastered with posters and had a local Fatah campaigning centre.
I wondered, given that the passion here [in Bil'lin and Ramallah] was so high, why wasn't there any sign of the election taking place in East Jerusalem? According to the ISM media co-ordinator campaigning for the election has been banned by the Israeli government. Only 5,000 of the 200,000 Palestinians in Jerusalem will be eligible to vote in this election. People are able to vote only by obtaining tickets which were in limited number (I will find out more about this tomorrow).
At this stage it looks like Hamas will win. Hamas is expected to win for a few reasons. The first is a belief by many of the Palestinians that Fatah is corrupt. Fatah certainly has lacked internal democracy having not had a National Congress since 1989. This allowed Fatah and the PA leadership to act without scrutiny in the name of unity. Fatah has also been seen to compromise too much with Israel at times, such as in the Oslo accord when they agreed to Israel maintaining the Israeli roads and settlements that relegate any future Palestinian state to a series of bandtustan. Some of the people I spoke to defending Fatah felt that this election was a real shaking up of Fatah and that the Fatah list contained an emerging leadership that is different to the old Fatah.
The charges of corruption where not helped by allegations that the US is backing Fatah. The Washington post put out an article By Scott Wilson and Glenn Kessler: