Originally published by Ma’an News Agency on April 22, 2015.
RAMALLAH (Ma’an) — A student list affiliated with Hamas on Wednesday came out on top in the closely-watched student elections at Birzeit University near Ramallah.
A day after thousands turned out for a student debate between Fatah, Hamas, and the leftist parties participating, the Islamic List emerged victorious with 26 seats, while the Fatah-affiliated list trailed with 19.
The leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine list emerged with five, while an alliance of three smaller leftist parties – the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Palestinian People’s Party, and Fida — took one seat.
Voter turnout was reported at 77 percent of all undergraduate students entitled to vote, who numbered around 9,000.
The victory for the Islamic List at the historically staunchly pro-Fatah campus took observers by surprise. In the absence of regular national elections, university elections are seen as important indicators of public opinion by political commentators in Palestine and Birzeit is considered to be the most important campus in the yearly political contests.
The Hamas victory came after a year in which the Fatah-affiliated list dominated student politics, having earned 23 seats compared to the Hamas list’s 20 seats.
University president Khalil Hindi praised the participation of students and their commitment to the democratic process.
He said that the elections were carried out in a peaceful environment that reflected student interest in voting.
The Birzeit student elections are closely watched by political observers across the country, as the university is considered to be the West Bank’s most prestigious center of higher education and a hub of political activism.
Although outside political parties do not take part directly in the contest, each list is closely affiliated with a political party as are the students involved in the campaigns.
On Tuesday, thousands took part in a large campus debate featuring the four electoral lists in which major issues facing both the country at large as well as university students in particular were discussed.
Students waved not only flags and banners representing their party affiliations, but also posters with the faces of students held by Israeli authorities in prison for their political activism.
The Hamas victory comes only a month after Fatah victories at the Abu Dis campus of Al-Quds University as well as at Bethlehem University, both schools where Hamas-affiliated students do not participate in the electoral contests.
At Birzeit, Hamas students stressed the party’s performance in the 2014 war with Israel, in which the group managed to repulse a ground invasion despite heavy losses.
Students also criticized the security cooperation of Fatah with Israeli military authorities. Both points have boosted Hamas’ popularity in the last year, while also hurting Fatah’s credibility.