In 1995 the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip was signed, to be in effect for five years. The treaty stipulated that elections would be held for both the executive official, the president, and for the members of the legislative branch. Among other things, the treaty explicitly details the organization, structure, and functions of the legislature, the scope of power of both the legislature and executive, and the protocol for elections.
Election Laws, Systems and Processes
President Mahmoud Abbas issued a presidential decree on September 2, 2007, that introduced basic amendments into the presidential and legislative elections law. The amended law stipulates the adoption of the proportional representation system (The lists system) in legislative elections and makes the whole Palestinian territories one electoral district. The law also stipulates that any person who runs in legislative elections must abide by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, and by the Independence Declaration Act issued by the PLO in 1989, and by the provisions of the Basic Law. In the case of presidential elections, the amended law stipulates that the winner must receive 50% plus one of cast votes. If no candidate meets this requirement, a second round takes place after 15 days in which the two candidates with highest votes contest the presidential post. Hamas Movement rejected the amendments introduced by President Abbas and affirmed that he has no right to amend Palestinian laws, and stressed that the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) is the only authorized body that has the power to pass or amend laws. President Abbas, on the other hand, insisted that the Basic law gives him the right to issue decisions that carry the power of the law in the absence of the legislative council. He added that the council has the power to reject the president’s amendments after it resumes its meetings. It is worth mentioning that the introduced amendments exclude Hamas from participating in or contesting legislative elections because it objects to Oslo Accords and it is not a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
President Mahmoud Abbas, in his capacity a chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), issued a decree on August 11, 2007, adopting the proportional representation system (lists) in PLO elections, in elections within popular unions and organizations, and in the Palestinian National Council elections.
The Palestinian Elections Law No. 15 of 1995 sets out the candidacy requirements, as well as the election appeals procedure. The electoral process is determined according to the Electoral Law of 1995. The laws stipulate that election disputes shall be appealed to the Election Appeals Court, which is composed of the president and four judges appointed by the president of the Palestinian National Authority.
The legislative body, the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), is composed of 132 elected members. The president serves ex-officio as the 133th member. Members are elected for five-year terms by the winner-take-all electoral system, from 16 electoral constituencies. Some seats are reserved for minority representation. In the 1996 elections, six seats were reserved for the Christian population, and one seat was kept aside for the Samaritans. Candidates in the legislative elections must collect 500 signatures of support and give a US $1,000 deposit to the Ministry of Finance. The president is elected from a single constituency, again by the winner-take-all electoral system. Whereas in legislative elections voters may cast as many votes as there are representatives from the voter’s constituency, voters are allowed to cast only one vote in the presidential election. Candidates for the presidential election must gather 5,000 signatures of support, and must give a $3,000 US deposit to the Ministry of Finance. Voting rights are granted to all Palestinians of at least 18 years of age on the day of the elections.
The treaty also mandated that the Palestinian Authority create the Palestinian Central Election Commission (CEC) to administer the elections in accordance with the provisions of the electoral law. The CEC further created the District Election Offices (DEOs) and Polling Station Commissions (PSCs) to assist in carrying out the elections at the local level. In preparation for the 1996 elections, the CEC was actively engaged in voter education and registration activities. The 1995 Interim Agreement also specifies that the elections should be open to international election monitors. All phases of the 1996 election process, from the registration of voters, to the campaigning period, to the actual day of voting within the polling stations, were open to monitoring. The 1996 presidential and legislative elections were greeted with great international attention, and since then a number of reports have been published in myriad venues on the quality and accuracy of the elections. For the most part, the reports have been positive.
The last presidential elections in the Palestinian Authority's areas took place on January 9, 2005. The central elections committee declared Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) as the winning candidate who received 62.3% of the votes. The number of citizens who voted in these elections was 775,000 out of 1.1 million eligible voters, thereby rendering a participation rate of 70%. Six other candidates ran for presidency. Mustafa Bargouthi gained 18% of votes and Tayseer Khaled gained 3.5%. The other candidates gained between 2.7% and 0.8% of the votes. Hamas Movement and Al-Jihad Al-Islami Movement boycotted the presidential elections.
In the January 1996 legislative elections, of the 88 contested seats, candidates from the Harakat al-Tahrir al-Filistini, or Fatah, won 49, while another 15 seats were captured by independents affiliated with Fatah. The bulk of the remaining seats went to independent candidates, although a handful of seats were secured by independents with an Islamic affiliation. Rival factions to Fatah from within the PLO did not participate in the elections. To voice their rejection of the Oslo accords, some Islamists affiliated with Hamas also refused to participate. At the time that election procedures and protocol were being debated in 1995, there was some call by smaller opposition parties for the use of the proportional representation system, which traditionally allows smaller parties greater opportunities. The majoritarian system tends to benefit larger parties. For example, in the 1996 legislative elections, although Fatah received approximately 30% of the total votes, the party won 58% of the parliamentary seats. Conversely, the various independent candidates received approximately 60% of the vote but captured only 40% of the seats.
The second Palestinian legislative elections took place on January 25, 2006 according to a mixed electoral system that entails electing 50% of the legislative council seats on the basis of proportional lists and 50% on an individual basis in 16 electoral districts (11 districts in the West Bank and 5 in Gaza Strip). A total of 11 party-lists competed over 66 legislative seats, while 414 candidates competed over the other 66 seats. The Islamic Resistance Movement (HAMAS) participated for the first time in these legislative elections. The 11 party-lists were: FATEH Movement; HAMAS Movement which ran under the title "list for change and reform"; Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine; "The Alternative" (a leftist coalition of the Democratic Front, Palestinian People's Party and FIDA"; "Independent Palestine" (a number of independents led by Mustafa Barghouthi); "Arab Liberation Front"; "Freedom and Social Justice" (included "Enough" youth movement and "Green Palestinian Party"); "Promise" (mainly independents); "Third Road" (led by minister of finance, Salam Fayyad, and included academicians and businessmen); and "Social Justice" list (represents the Social Justice Party which calls for peaceful resistance).
The number of registered voters was 1,300,000, and 980,000 of them cast their votes, making a participation rate of 77%. The Central Election Committee announced the final results as follows: HAMAS Movement won 74 seats while FATEH Movement won 45 seats in the Legislative Council. The remaining 13 seats were distributed in the following manner: The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine won 3 seats; "The Alternative" list won 2 seats; Independent Palestine 2 seats; and the "Third Road" list won 2 seats. Four seats were won by individual candidates. As soon as the results were announced, that HAMAS had won 56% of the legislative council seats, Prime Minister Ahmad Korai' submitted his resignation because the Palestinian Basic Law stipulates that the party with the largest number of seats forms the government. The Basic Law also stipulates that the government runs internal affairs while the president is responsible for external policy, especially for relations with Israel. The electoral process went smoothly and did not witness any disturbances or acts of violence. The elections were monitored by hundreds of international and local observers. There was a consensus by various local and international parties that the elections were free and democratic.
The first municipal elections in the West Bank since 3 decades took place on December 23, 2004. The first stage of the municipal elections covered Jericho and 25 villages in the West Bank. 886 candidates competed over 360 municipal and village councils. The final results were as follows: Fateh Movement won the majority of seats in 17 councils, while HAMAS Movement won the majority of seats in 9 councils. The popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine came third. Fateh won 135 seats and HAMAS won 75 seats. The participation rate was 84% of the 140,000 eligible voters. A quota of 16% of all seats was reserved for women. International and local observers declared the municipal elections to be fair and transparent. The first municipal elections in Gaza strip, which had been postponed due to violence hindering the registration of voters, took place on January 27, 2005. Hamas candidates won 78 municipal seats out of 118 seats. FATEH candidates won 30 seats, independents won 9 seats, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine won one seat.
The third phase of Palestinian municipal elections took place on September 29, 2005. Elections were held in 104 villages in the West Bank. The total number of eligible voters was 127,000. The elections were conducted according to proportional representation. 297 electoral lists competed for 1018 municipal seats. A total of 2274 candidates including 558 women competed for 814 municipal and local seats because 22 electoral districts were uncontested, of which Fateh alone won 16 districts and won the other 6 districts in alliance with other political parties or prominent families. Participation rate was 81%. The chairman of the Supreme Elections Committee, Jamal Asshowbaki declared that Fateh won 51 municipalities, Hamas 13, and other political factions and family lists won the remaining 40 municipal councils. In terms of municipal seats, Fateh won 547 seats and Hamas won 265 seats. In terms of vote percentages, Fateh won 53.73%, Hamas 26.3%, the Popular Front (PFLP) 5.40% and the People's Party 1.77%. Elections were supposed to take place in 132 electoral districts, but they were postponed in the district of Gaza, Jenin and in 2 districts in Nablus region as a result of Israel's withdrawal from Gaza Strip in the same month. The fourth phase of Palestinian municipal elections took place on December 15, 2005. It covered 42 cities and villages in the West Bank and Gaza strip. The elections committee did not announce the total results of these elections. However, results in the 4 largest cities in the West Bank were known, namely: Nablus, Jenin, El-Bireh and Ramallah. The Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) was the main winner in 3 cities while Fateh Movement was the main loser. Hamas won 13 out of 15 seats that constitute Nablus municipal council; while the remaining 2 seats were won by independent candidates (Nablus has 50,000 registered voters). Hamas also won 8 seats of Jenin’s 15-member municipal council; thereby it qualified to head the council. In El-Bireh, which had been characterized as a secular city, Hamas won 9 out of the 15 seats of its municipal council. The city of Ramallah, with a Christian majority, was won by Fateh and its allies on the one hand and the Popular Front and its allies on the other. Hamas won only 3 municipal seats in Ramallah. According to published information Fateh won in the rural areas, but no figures were given. There remains a fifth and last phase of municipal elections to be held in 60 cities and villages, including Gaza city and Hebron.