Palestinian Election: Coronavirus, Fatah strife may delay, cancel vote

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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday issued a “presidential decree” for the formation of an elections court amid reports that the Palestinian general elections may be delayed.

A PA official said he did not rule out the possibility that the elections may be postponed or canceled in light of the upsurge in coronavirus infections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Palestinian sources, on the other hand, said infighting in Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction may prompt the PA leadership to delay or postpone the elections.

The new elections court, headed by Judge Eman Nasser Eddin, was formed in accordance with an agreement reached between several Palestinian factions in Cairo last month. According to the agreement, “The court will be exclusively responsible for whatever is related to the electoral process, its results and any disputed issues.”

In his decree, Abbas said the elections court would consist of eight judges from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

On Saturday, the PA government imposed new restrictions due to a sharp increase in coronavirus infections in the West Bank.

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The restrictions include, among other things, the closure of schools and universities and a ban on the movement of Palestinians from one area to another, as well as a full lockdown between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m.

A PA official in Ramallah said if the coronavirus infections continue to rise in the coming weeks, the Palestinian leadership may have to postpone the general elections.

The parliamentary election has been set for May 22, while the vote for the PA presidency is scheduled to take place on July 31.

Palestinian sources, however, pointed out that mounting tensions in Fatah may force Abbas to cancel or postpone the elections.

Some Fatah figures were considering  forming their own independent lists to run in the elections, the sources said.

The Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar quoted Fatah sources as saying the jailed leader of the faction, Marwan Barghouti, was planning to present his candidacy in the presidential election. Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences in Israeli prison for his role in terrorist attacks during the Second Intifada, was also planning to form his own Fatah list to contest the parliamentary vote, the report said.

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Jibril Rajoub, secretary-general of the Fatah Central Committee, is expected to meet with Barghouti in prison in the coming days to urge him not to run in the presidential election, the newspaper reported. Last month, Hussein al-Sheikh, head of the PA General Authority for Civil Affairs and a close aide to Abbas, met with Barghouti and reportedly pressured him not to run in the presidential election.

“Barghouti is very angry with the Palestinian Authority and feels that he’s been abandoned,” the newspaper reported.

Barghouti is said to be backed by Nasser al-Qudwa, who is a member of the Fatah Central Committee and a nephew of former PLO chairman Yasser Arafat.

Another senior Fatah official, Nabil Amr, also was planning to form his own list for the parliamentary election.

Supporters of deposed Fatah operative Mohammad Dahlan, who is based in the United Arab Emirates, were also considering forming their own list to run in the parliamentary election.

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Abbas has reportedly threatened to punish any Fatah official who runs outside the faction’s official list.

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