On 31 Januarys 2017, the Palestinian Council of Ministers issued a decision to hold local elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on 13 May 2017. The decision assigned the Central Elections Commission (CEC) to carry out the necessary preparations to start the elections and the Minister of Local Government to follow up the elections’ preparations and process.
The Palestinian President previously issued a presidential decree to amend the Local Council Elections Law No.10/2005. According to this amendment, a special court was established to consider the electoral appeals as the First Instance Court in each city used to be responsible for the electoral appeals according to the old law.
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) welcomes holding the local elections, considering it as a constitutional requirement. However, PCHR emphasizes that successfully holding local elections requires a comprehensive national dialogue and consensus on the procedures.
PCHR is concerned over the amendment to the Local Council Elections Law without consulting the political parties, threatening the viability of holding the elections in Gaza and even the participation of some political parties, particularly Hamas movement. Meanwhile, PCHR understands that the amendment came as a necessity after the Supreme Court refused to recognize the lawfulness of the Gaza Strip courts. Thus, establishing a special court has become a necessity to prevent canceling the elections again.
PCHR believes that although the nomination of judges for the elections court is within the Supreme Judicial Council’s competence, PCHR calls upon the Council to consider the current political situation and nominate judges in consultation with the political parties in order to reassure all parties and give the confidence needed in the electoral process so as to ensure the participation of all. PCHR also calls upon the CEC to have a significant role in the convergence of views.
Those elections were scheduled to be held on 07 October 2016, but the Supreme Court in Ramallah issued a decision on 03 October 2016 to hold elections in the West Bank but not in the Gaza Strip “because of the current judicial situation”, pointing to the unlawfulness of the Gaza Strip courts formed in violation of the law. This decision was followed by another decision from the Council of Ministers to defer the elections for 4 months until the circumstances are convenient for the Gaza Strip’s participation, and the latter decision was welcome by PCHR at the time.
In this context, PCHR believes that the abovementioned decision of postponing the elections has become useless and does not guarantee holding elections in Gaza if the government, Supreme Judicial Council and CEC will not find a common ground to hold the elections with the participation of other political parties, including Hamas.
PCHR stresses that holding the local elections is an important step towards restoring the democratic process and holding the legislative and presidential elections scheduled in 2010.
PCHR has always demanded that the amendment to the Elections Law should include an article settling the debate about canceling the whole electoral list in case one of its members’ nominations was cancelled as this was the main reason behind obstructing the elections. Canceling the whole list does not achieve the electoral process’ goal to find candidates representing the various social strata. Moreover, it is not reasonable that a whole segment of society be deprived of choosing their representatives because a flaw was found in their representing list.
PCHR emphasizes elections should be held. PCHR hereby calls upon all parties, particularly the National Unity Government and the authorities in the Gaza Strip, to unleash public freedoms, particularly the freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly, in order to enable civilians to participate in elections in a way that reflects their real will far from any influences or threats.