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Palestine To Hold Local Elections In Summer To Curb Public Anger

By James Bennet

The New York Times -- JERUSALEM

The Palestinian Authority said Monday that it would begin holding its first municipal elections late this summer, in a bid to stem public anger over corruption and mismanagement.

Under the plan, elected representatives will replace mayors and members of municipal councils who were appointed by the Palestinian Authority and who are, in many towns and cities, regarded as incompetent or crooked.

The decision, by the Palestinian Cabinet, also appeared to be intended to demonstrate to the outside world that the Palestinian leadership was bent on improving its governance. Elections are likely to be held first in the relatively tranquil West Bank city of Jericho in August, to be followed by elections in the Gaza Strip and elsewhere, officials said.

“We cannot talk about reform at a time there are appointments to the municipal councils,” said Jamal Shobaki, the Palestinian minister of local government. “We need reform, and we need to respect the desire of the people.”

In 1996, the Palestinian Authority held elections for president and legislative posts, as part of the Oslo peace plan. But it postponed municipal elections, fearing that the militant group Hamas would do well in them.

Hamas did not take part in the presidential or legislative elections, regarding them as more connected to Oslo, which the group rejected. Yasser Arafat was overwhelmingly chosen as president in those elections, which were held under close international supervision.

Hamas has grown stronger during the present conflict with Israel. Hamas leaders have said in recent interviews that they are interested in competing in municipal elections.

Shobaki acknowledged that Hamas might fare well in the elections, but said, “Whatever the results are, the elections are an important mechanism.”