JERUSALEM (Apr. 13)
Pro-Palestine Liberation Organization nationalists and Communists scored overwhelming victories in most major West Bank towns in yesterday’s municipal elections, the first since 1972. About 63,000 registered voters cast ballots–22,000 of them women who were allowed to vote for the first time. The participation of some 72.3 percent of the eligible voters is considered high.
Although only local town council seats were at stake, the results seem to have far-reaching implications for both Israel and Jordan. The voters rejected the older traditionalist leaders, most of them from wealthy families, who have close ties with the Hashemite Kingdom and have generally cooperated with Israeli authorities. They selected, instead, a younger generation of professionals, academicians and intellectuals, some of them radicals and some relative moderates, but all with strong Palestinian nationalist sentiments.
The nationalist bloc won all 10 seats in Hebron’s town council, swamping the moderate slate supported by former Mayor Mohammed Ali el-Jabaari who declined to stand for re-election. First place in Hebron went to Phahed Kuassma, a moderate nationalist. The runner-up was Dr. Awani Zayer, regarded as a leftist radical, who is expected to contest the appointment of Kuassm as Mayor. In Hebron, 77.9 percent of the eligible voters went to the polls.
Nationalists won eight out of the ten council seats in Nablus, the largest town on the West Bank. First place went to Bassem Asha Ka, a radical leftist, and the second place was won by Dr, Hatem Abu Gazalla, a PLO supporter who has a record of arrests for nationalist activities. Communist candidates won a majority of the council seats in Jericho. Incumbent Mayor Shafik Balu, a moderate close to the Jordanian court, took third place. Communists or PLO-supporters won substantial majorities in Tulkarem, Ramallah, El-Bireh and Beit Jallah.
The nationalists failed, however, in Bethlehem where they took only two seats on the town council. The incumbent mayor, a traditionalist, is assured of re-election. In Jenin as well, Mayor Ahmed Camal A Sadi scored a victory. The Communists failed to win a single seat.
WOMEN BREAK WITH TRADITION
The heavy turn-out of voters was all the more impressive inasmuch as heavy rains swept most of the West Bank yesterday. The high proportion of women voters was seen as a strong break with tradition and a revolt against male conservatism which prevailed only in a few of the smaller towns. In Kabatya in the Samaria region, the local men, supported by Mayor Muhammed Khalil Hamadan. prevented women from voting by refusing to register them on grounds that elections were not “women’s business.” The local women did not protest that decision.
But in Tubas, about 15 miles away, women not only voted but one was a candidate. Mrs. Rabae eh Zouabi. head of the local welfare association, said she viewed her candidacy as an assertion of women’s rights to an active role in politics and equal status with men. She was supported by her husband, a merchant, who managed her campaign.
VOTING IS ORDERLY
Campaigning on the West Bank was intense and supporters of different candidates pursued the voters right up to the doors of the polling stations, handing out cards listing their slates and blaring slogans from loudspeakers. Despite an official ban on political debates, candidates raised nationalist issues. But the voting was remarkably orderly. in sharp contrast to the violent disturbances that swept the West Bank only last month.
Order was maintained by Arab policemen. All Israeli security forces were evacuated from the West Bank on election eve. But Defense Minister Shimon Peres paid a surprise visit to polling stations in Ramallah and Bethlehem and was applauded by young voters, mainly women, entering or leaving the voting booths. They apparently realized that they had gained the vote only by Israel’s amendment of Jordanian law that limited the franchise to male property owners. In all other aspects, the elections were conducted according to Jordanian law.