Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs
Hamas Scores Majorities in Gaza Municipal Council Elections
In early May municipal elections held in many locations throughout Palestine, the Islamic movement Hamas, with its political and militant branches, won the voters' trust in several major population centers in the Gaza Strip-demonstrating beyond a doubt both to Fatah and the Israelis that the hard-line movement must now be taken seriously in Palestinian politics. While the Fatah party racked up an overall win of close to 60 percent of municipal council seats, Hamas candidates won 30 percent. Hamas has also claimed that a number of winning independent candidates are actually Hamas members or sympathizers, but unwilling to declare themselves openly lest they later become Israeli targets.
In the Gaza Strip, Hamas candidates swept the municipal elections in Rafah, El Bureij, North Gaza and many smaller locations. In Rafah, Hamas won 12 of 15 seats; Fatah won only two, with the remaining seat going to an independent. Hamas has built its political clout not only by its armed resistance to the occupation, but through an extensive program of social services. While Fatah has been plagued by charges of nepotism and corruption, Hamas steadily built a reputation for incorruptibility. Toward the end of the campaign, Fatah distributed food, clothes, and money in Gaza-something Hamas has been steadily and quietly doing all along-but Fatah's last-ditch attempt to win support elicited more criticism than votes.
Despite the fact that international observers declared the elections fair, Fatah alleged voter fraud and demanded recounts in a number of locations. The Palestinian Authority (PA) recounted all ballots, with the same results-stunning majorities for Hamas in Gaza.
Hamas' new willingness to enter the formal political process, and its declared intention of entering candidates in the July Palestinian legislative election, has been greeted with unease by the Sharon government. Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom hinted broadly that Israel might change its plans to disengage from Gaza and evacuate the settlements if Hamas becomes a strong force in the PA legislature. …