Ramallah, West Bank — Gains by rebels and a low turnout have dealt a blow to Fatah, the dominant party in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, which had hoped to paper over internal squabbles and a lack of cash with a strong election showing.
The long-delayed elections for control of 94 West Bank towns and villages took place on Saturday for the first time in six years and were in many ways a vote of confidence in Mahmoud Abbas, the Western-backed president and Fatah chief, and his inner circle.
The powerful Islamist group Hamas boycotted the election and prevented voting in the Gaza Strip, leaving the field largely clear for the mainstream Fatah party, but results released on Sunday showed several party rebels took seats in major cities.
Worse for the leadership, barely half of eligible voters turned out and and Hamas backers in the West Bank also seemed to have stayed at home.
The result may further weaken Abbas’s hand internally, even as he is due to make his case for statehood recognition at the United Nations next month.
“The turnout and the non-participation by the Islamists won’t make them happy, and the political failure both in participation and in results is worse for them than in previous polls,” Hassan Asfour, a critic of the authorities, wrote in an editorial in the online Amad newspaper.
“The preliminary results on the victories of those who dropped out of Fatah … registered a strong rebuke to the way the party is being run.”
Technocrat Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was the butt of violent anti-austerity protests last month throughout the West Bank, along with other party figures, after the heavily indebted government withheld salaries when it ran out of money and hiked fuel prices to meet agreements with Israel.