GAZA CITY: Palestinian electoral officials yesterday began the long-overdue process of updating voter rolls in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in a key step toward eventual elections, officials said.
“The registration of voters is now beginning in the West Bank and Gaza. We hope accomplishing it will be the first step to ending the division,” said Central Elections Commission chief Hanna Nasser in announcing the start of the week-long operation at a news conference in Gaza City.
Voter registration has been delayed for years due to a long-running dispute between the Hamas rulers of Gaza and its Fatah rival which dominates the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority.
It is a key part of preparations for legislative and presidential elections called for under terms of a reconciliation deal signed in 2011 but which has never been implemented. The process is likely to involve registering some 350,000 Gazans as eligible to vote, many of them for the first time.
The week-long registration drive will involve 581 people who will register voter details at 256 schools across the Gaza Strip based upon lists provided by the interior ministry. Updating the electoral register in Gaza, where voter details have not been updated since the last elections in 2006, removes a major stumbling block blocking reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. The procedure had been due to begin last year but the CEC’s work was “temporarily” halted by Hamas as reconciliation efforts ran aground. The CEC reopened its Gaza offices in January 2012 but could not begin work on updating the voter lists without Hamas’s permission, which it subsequently received in May.
Election officials began recruiting employees and had been due to start registering individual voters when the process was suddenly halted in July by Hamas, which argued that various “obstacles” needed to be resolved before the CEC could continue its work.
Yesterday’s breakthrough came about after Hamas and Fatah made a fresh attempt to implement the 2011 reconciliation deal that called for establishing an interim government of independents that would oversee preparations for legislative and presidential elections, including the updating of voter rolls in Gaza.
Over the weekend, Palestinian factions held two days of marathon reconciliation talks in Cairo which ended with a commitment to begin consultations over the formation of an interim government — another issue which has bogged down reconciliation efforts.