Palestinians hope for change after polls

Palestinians head to the polls on 25 January to vote for a new parliament, their first legislative election in nearly 10 years.

    Hamas candidates at a recent campaign rally

    Much has changed in the decade. The Oslo Peace Accords have been all but abandoned by both Palestinians and Israelis and have been replaced by the mired road map to peace, backed by the US, the EU, Russia and the UN.

    Yasser Arafat, long-time leader of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and president of the Palestinian Authority, died in 2005 while Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, lies comatose in a hospital in Israel.

    Israel completed a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in August 2005 but kept it sealed off from the West Bank.

    The separation barrier continues to wall off many Palestinian cities and villages.

    Growing weary

    In the midst of these changes, Palestinians have grown weary of the lawlessness that has gripped their streets and of the corruption that has permeated their government.

    They are also frustrated by the lack of advancement in the peace process.

    Many see legislative elections as a chance for change, while others consider the Palestine Legislative Council, or parliament, as a lame body which can achieve little in the face of one-party rule and a crippled executive.

    In addition, pressure from the United States, Israel, and the European Union to exclude Islamic resistance movement Hamas from the vote, and infighting between members of the ruling Fatah party, has cast doubts on whether the elections will take place at all. spoke to several Palestinians in Gaza about their thoughts on upcoming parliamentary elections, asking each of them what changes they hoped to see, and how optimistic they were about the future.

    Amira al-Najjar, 31, civil engineer, Jabalya

    Al-Najjar: No matter what
    happens, there will be problems

    It's not clear to me whether or not elections will actually take place. But no matter what happens, there will be problems. If Hamas wins, there will be blood battles. And if Fatah wins, things will be just as difficult. And if elections don't occur at all, all hell will break loose, and the ceasefire [with Israel] will end. 

    In our elections, you are not dealing with something logical, whose outcome you can predict or forecast. All in all, I am not optimistic in the parliament. Fatah's problem is they do not have a clear political programme and don't know how to achieve their goals. 

    And as for Hamas, I don't feel they are politically sound as a group. On the level of basic government services, they do well, and they put the money to work. But can they do the same on the level of the parliament? Will they help the society or bring it down? 

    Mustafa Surani, 47, florist, Gaza City

    Surani: Not convinced the polls
    would make a difference

    I didn't bother to register to vote, even in the very first registration drive in 2004. I was never convinced that the elections will make a difference, and I'm still not. The former parliament members never did anything for us. 

    How many years have they been in office, and what has the ordinary citizen gotten out of it? Nothing. They serve no one but themselves. Meanwhile, the MP gets his own private car, a $3000-a-month salary. The PLC (Palestine Legislative Council) is nothing but a toolbox of the executive. What more is there to say?

    Araksi Waheed, 69, retired pharmacist, Gaza City

    They cannot delay elections any longer - they must hold them, in order for the chaos and lawlessness to end. If they don't, it will spell the end of the Abbas regime. 

    Everyone is sick and tired of the anarchy on the streets.  Hamas have proven themselves worthy. People trust they can bring an end to the madness, and because of this, I think they will win.

    Nasir Abo Musa, 26, chef, Gaza City

    Abo Musa: Optimistic the
    elections will bring change

    I don't think it's likely the past will repeat itself. Reforms have occurred, slowly but surely, and I am optimistic the elections will bring change and that the parliament will be different this time around.

    There are bigger things at stake here - bigger even than problems within the PA and between the PA and the Palestinian people.

    I will definitely participate in elections. I will vote for whoever knows the issues, whoever understands our problems. I will not vote merely along party lines, but rather based on what the person promises to do for the people.

    Abu Salih Tayish, 43, stockbroker, Rafah

    These elections are a bind for Abu Mazin (Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president).

    But every day Fatah does things to make people hate them more, and that increases Hamas' appeal. Hamas has become much stronger than the Palestinian Authority. At the very least, their leadership has control over their militia. Hamas takes a decision and abides by it. They are disciplined. 

    People want Hamas to rid them of this awfulness that has taken over our society - corruption and patronage and payoffs. Is a critical time - we'll either go through it safely, or God help us. 

    Samah Dissi, 20, college student, Gaza City

    Dissi: Whole system should be
    overhauled from the ground up

    I'm not very optimistic that the elections will bring real change because not all of the government posts were changed. People consider the whole system to be corrupt, and therefore it should be overhauled from the ground up, not just a few token people taken out of their posts. 

    At the same time, there are not enough qualified people to take over the jobs. In the presidential elections, people didn't even know about who was running for office, and it's the same now. 

    There is a large information gap and a gap in general between the leadership and the people. The problem is that the people are not that involved in the system. We need to start from scratch. Right now our choices are between a "blind man, and half a blind man". 

    Ilham Aloosha, 53, housekeeper, Shaikh Rudwan village

    I'm confident the elections will bring change. They are a step in the right direction. I hope to see the new parliament find employment for our youth, improve the standard of living for the people of Gaza in general, and deal with the lawlessness and weapons on the streets. 

    I want to feel safe sitting at home. I will vote for whoever can best deal with these issues. I truly hope we have learned from our past mistakes and move forward from here.

    Khadeeja Sultan, 72, farmer and vegetable vendor, Bait Lahya

    Sultan: Praying for a calm

    We pray for a calm election. We want what's best for the country. God willing, peace and security will come after it. I'll vote for whoever has a conscience and is faithful to God. No one in the current government is honest - everyone is corrupt. If they are honest, everybody will like them, it's simple.  

    Abo Samahir Khatib, 45, taxi driver, Gaza City

    Elections have to take place - we need to bring some new faces into the game. I myself have always been "Fatahawi" - a supporter of Fatah. But let's not kid ourselves; they are the ones responsible lately for all our problems - the corruption, the chaos, the patronage, the bloodshed, the violence. 

    So personally, I will vote for Hamas. At least they can get things done and aren't easily bought off with fancy cars and large salaries.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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