Al-Wafaa Islamic Bloc wins Birzeit University elections

Student election at university in the occupied West Bank seen as indicator of Palestinian political mood.

Birzeit University elections
The Al-Wafaa Islamic Bloc narrowly won the Birzeit University poll Nigel Wilson/Al Jazeera]

A student group ideologically aligned with Hamas has won the most seats for the third year in a row in an election held at Birzeit University in the occupied West Bank.

Al-Wafaa Islamic Bloc won 25 of the 51 seats in Wednesday’s student council election, with the Fatah-aligned Martyr Yasser Arafat party winning 22.

The last general election held among Palestinians was the parliamentary vote in 2006, in which Hamas won a majority.

Fatah’s refusal to recognise the result ended in divided rule among Palestinians in the occupied territories, with Hamas administering the Gaza Strip and Fatah ruling the West Bank in conjunction with Israeli forces.

The West Bank university’s yearly election is therefore “perceived as a bellwether of Palestinian politics and an indicator of the overall political mood among Palestinians” in the West Bank, according to Alaa Tartir, Programme Director of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network.

READ MORE: Palestinian factions compete in Birzeit elections

“The student body affiliated with Hamas won the elections for the third year running which debunks the myth that Hamas is losing its popularity and support of the Palestinians in the West Bank,” Tartir told Al Jazeera.

“In fact, it is Fatah that remains shackled by its crisis and negatively affected by the failures and lack of legitimacy of their political leadership in the West Bank.”

Palestinian factions compete in Birzeit student elections

While campaigning largely revolves around university and student affairs, the election does take on a political tone, indicative of the fact that up to 50 percent of students vote according to political issues, according to the estimate given by Marwan Taha, 19, a Birzeit law student and a volunteer who helped organise the election this year.

“Many do vote for student affairs, and the campaigning is specific to university and administrative issues,” Taha said.

But the politics of the occupation tend to go hand-in-hand with student affairs.

Previous years have involved students being detained by the Palestinian Authority (PA), which has long been known to pay university students to serve as informants.

Birzeit students have also frequently been targeted by Israeli forces, and several academics and human rights organisations have called attention to the manner in which Palestinian education is threatened by the occupation.

Political system ‘in crisis’

But according to Tartir, “the election is not only an indicator of the Palestinian political mood but also a reflection of the crisis of the Palestinian political system”.

Palestinians vote in municipal elections on Saturday, but only in the occupied West Bank and not the Gaza Strip, illustrating the persistent inability of Fatah and Hamas to overcome deep divisions.

Efforts last year to hold joint local elections failed as the two parties failed to bridge their differences.

Saturday’s vote for some 300 municipal councils in the West Bank, occupied by Israel for 50 years, has been seen as yet another sign that reconciliation may be a long way off.

“The student election has re-produced the same political problems instead of tackling them. For example, the university’s political scene is still dominated by Fatah and Hamas despite all the damages over the last 10 years due to the intra-Palestinian divide,” Tartir added.

The election on Saturday will involve 1.1 million voters. There will be 536 candidate lists with 4,400 candidates, the head of the electoral commission, Hisham Keheil, said.

“Everything indicates that the vote should go well,” Keheil said while expressing hope that voters will show up at the polls.

Turnout is a major question, however. A poll published by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research suggested only 42 percent of Palestinians wanted to vote.

Some 22 percent said they do not believe the election will help reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.

“The student community, and the whole Palestinian community, remains unable to challenge and reverse that Fatah-Hamas dichotomy. This means that they are failing to hold both parties accountable and failing to create a much-needed progressive front to challenge that dichotomy,” Tartir told Al Jazeera.

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Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies