Art imitating life? Reality TV show gives Palestinians a chance to ‘vote’ for a president

Published April 10th, 2016 - 07:34 GMT
The show's producers have invited Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to attend the final episode taping, saying the Palestinian Authority has been very supportive of the show. (AFP/File)
The show's producers have invited Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to attend the final episode taping, saying the Palestinian Authority has been very supportive of the show. (AFP/File)

For its second season, Ma’an channel’s reality TV show “The President” is giving the Palestinian people an opportunity to vote for a young “president,” continuing its one-of-a-kind franchise more than ten years since Palestinians last had an opportunity to vote in real presidential elections.

The second season of the show started in October, with the finale set to take place in upcoming weeks. The program, the first of its kind in the world, was initiated by Ma’an General Manager Raed Othman and is run in partnership with Washington, D.C.-based NGO Search for Common Grounds.

One hundred young men and women were shortlisted out of 1,200 applicants to the show, based on their knowledge of politics and history and evaluations by local committees in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The shortlisted competitors were then sorted into four regional subdivisions for the Gaza Strip and the northern, central and southern West Bank.

A committee of scholars, politicians, and economists -- consisting of Palestinian Knesset member Ahmad Tibi, Education Minister Sabri Saidam, PALTEL CEO Ammar Aker, Fatah central committee member Muhammad Shtayyeh, Palestinian ambassador to Germany Kholoud Deibis, and al-Quds Open University President Younis Amr -- then evaluated the candidates.

The committee met with each candidate and asked them questions on topics such as politics, history, geography, religion, and women’s rights. Committee members then rated each candidate, whittling the number of contestants down to 24.

The remaining candidates have since been given specific tasks each week to engage with the aforementioned themes through public debates and dialogue with the Palestinian community. During each episode broadcast live on Thursdays, their performances are evaluated by the “elders committee,” who, along with the public at home, vote for each candidate until a winner is elected at the end of the show.

The producers of “The President” have invited Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to attend the finale episode on May 26, Othman said, while stressing that they had yet to receive a response from Abbas.

Othman added that the Palestinian Authority has been very supportive of the show, allowing “The President” to use ministry buildings and other public facilities to film activities.

Hussein al-Deik, 31, from Ramallah was declared the winner of the first season of “The President” in June 2013 after obtaining the largest share of audience votes.

The show has garnered significant amounts of attention worldwide, particularly given the political woes in the occupied Palestinian territory. The last Palestinian presidential election took place in January 2005. Abbas remains in power despite his mandate having officially ended in 2009.


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