January 29, 2005


Hamas Builds Political Clout With Wins in Gaza Elections: The militant group's candidates take most of the races held in 10 small locales. The strong show could affect cease-fire talks with Abbas. (Laura King, January 29, 2005, LA Times)

Thousands of cheering Hamas supporters took to the streets of Gaza to celebrate after the group easily triumphed in seven out of the nine small to medium-size towns in the seaside territory where its candidates had run.

The group did not field a candidate in the 10th locality where voting was held, a village populated by a single Bedouin extended family. [...]

Analysts said the outcome, like that in municipal races last month in the West Bank, was probably significantly influenced by factors such as clan ties, narrowly focused local issues and long-simmering anger over corruption by Arafat loyalists.

Hamas, formally known as the Islamic Resistance Movement, also has a strong and well-disciplined organizational base in impoverished Gaza. The group runs an extensive social-services network that includes much-needed clinics and schools. Using its many community contacts, it simply did a better job in getting out the vote, local officials said. [...]

"This is a big victory," said Mahmoud Zahar, a founding member of Hamas and the group's main surviving leader in Gaza. Most of the group's other prominent figures, including spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin, have been slain by Israel over the last 18 months in "targeted killings" with helicopter-fired missiles.

Much in the manner of Hamas' usual public rallies, supporters marched en masse in half a dozen Gaza towns and cities, waving the group's green Islamic flags, passing out celebratory sweets and shouting "God is great!" through loudspeakers.

But Zahar, in remarks that seemed emblematic of Hamas' new aspirations, sounded like an earnest politician anywhere extolling the virtues of democracy.

"Everybody won, those who were elected and those who were not, because the exercise of this process is more important than the winners," Zahar said at a news conference in Gaza City.

Odd as that assertion might have sounded coming from a leader of a violent armed faction, the turnout — more than 85%, according to Jamal Shoubaki, the Palestinian minister for local government — suggested a strong pent-up desire to practice democracy.

Many Palestinians, even those who were supporters of Arafat's ruling Fatah movement, felt stifled and disenfranchised by the late president's near-absolute grip on power.

Of the 118 winners of seats on municipal councils, 75 were from Hamas, according to final official tallies. Fearing arrest or other repercussions, those candidates did not openly claim affiliation with the militant group, but instead called themselves the Change and Reform slate. Two other known Hamas members ran as independents and won.

Candidates affiliated with Fatah won 26 seats, and at least 11 posts went to independents thought to be Fatah supporters. The remaining seats were scattered among other independent candidates and a smaller party.

Continuing a trend set in municipal elections in the West Bank, female candidates also ran in substantial numbers. Shoubaki told reporters that women garnered 17% of the seats being contested, and added: "We are proud of this."

They appear to be getting the hang of this democracy deal pretty quickly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 29, 2005 8:37 AM
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