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Hamas wins student elections at major West Bank university

Observers say student elections at Birzeit Univerity are an indication of overall Palestinian political mood
Election results announced by Ahmad Al-Ahmad, head of elections preparatory committee and chairman of student affairs at Birzeit University (MEE/Elia Ghorbiah)

Hamas won a plurality of student council seats at Birzeit University, a bellwether of West Bank politics, on Wednesday in Ramallah.

Ahmad al-Ahmad, who is in charge of student affairs, announced the election results, saying that Hamas won 25 seats with a total of 3,481 votes, followed by the Fatah party Martyr Yasser Arafat bloc, which won 21 seats with 3,035 votes.

The left-wing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine won five seats with 668 votes, while the Palestinian Democratic Union and the Palestinian People's Party won one seat with 147 votes.

Al-Ahmad said voter turnout was 77 percent of all undergraduate students entitled to vote, which total 9,892 students.

Political observers across the country closely watch the Birzeit student elections, as the university is considered to be the West Bank’s hub of political activism and the elections are considered a reliable reflection of Palestinian political mood.

Many Palestinian political and community leaders have graduated from Birzeit.

During a news conference after the announcement of the results, University President Abduallateef Abu Hijli praised the students’ commitment and cooperation and said the elections were conducted in a peaceful and democratic atmosphere that reflected students’ sense of responsibility towards the university.

Hamas congratulated its student organisation, other student blocs and the university.

Tareq Rabee, Hamas’s coordinator, told Middle East Eye: “We expected to win but we didn't imagine this sweeping victory. We are thankful to the students who believe in our ability to change."

“I think that students voted for us because they were beneficiaries of our projects and activities, and the high voter turnout for Hamas is the proof,” he added.

Officials count the vote at Beirzeit university on Tuesday evening (MEE/Elia Ghorbiah)

Hamas has won student council elections at the university over the past two years. Some say Hamas victories mark a decline in popularity of Fatah, the West Bank’s ruling party.

Amjad Hassan, an electrical engineering student, said: “I voted for Hamas because I spent two years at university voting for Fatah without noticing any changes; I voted for Hamas last year and this year because they have a real action program, unlike other parties that keep talking and not doing”.

Haitham Abu Radwan, one of Fatah's coordinators, congratulated Hamas and described the election as "a democratic wedding", saying he hoped Hamas' cooperation and positive atmosphere would be reflected throughout Palestinian society.

The elections came a day after thousands took part in a large debate that featured issues facing both the country at large as well as university students in particular.

Student elections were also held a few days ago at Polytechnic University in Hebron, in which both Hamas and Fatah gained 15 seats while the PFLP got one. This was also considered a victory for Hamas because Fatah had previously won most of the elections at Polytechnic.