On Thursday, 27 January 2005, Palestinian voters in 10 local communities went to polling centres to vote in the first local elections to be held in the OPT since 1976 (which were partial elections in the West Bank). By holding elections in these10 communities, the first stage of elections of Palestinian local councils, which included elections of an additional 26 local councils in the West Bank on 23 December 2004, ended. Other stages of local elections will be held in the coming months to include the remaining Palestinian local councils throughout the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
These latest elections were held for local councils of 10 communities, which vary in their area, population and the number of qualified voters. These local councils are: Beit Hanoun (13 members) in Northern Gaza; al-Zawaida (13 members), al-Musaddar (9 members), Deir al-Balah (15 members) and al-Maghazi (13 members) all in Central Gaza; Khuza’a (11 members) and Bani Suhaila (13 members) in Khan Yunis; and al-Shouka (11 members) and al-Nasser (11 members) in Rafah. According to the Higher Committee of Local Elections, 414 candidates, including 68 women (16.4%), competed for 118 seats in these councils.
During the day, large numbers of voters went to polling centres to vote in the elections, reflecting the public support enjoyed by these elections. Despite the current severe conditions they live in, due to the continuous attacks and closure by Israeli occupation forces, Palestinians have demonstrated again their determination to participate in the elections to select their local leaders after they had selected their president. According to initial statistics declared by the Higher Committee for Local Elections (HCLE), 72% of qualified voters, whose number is estimated at 83,700 (85% of those who are registered in the electoral register prepared by the Central Election Commission and 30% of those who are listed in the civil register) participated in these elections.
Elections of local councils are a very important stage in the Palestinian political life, and have been waited for long. We hope that these elections will end the policy of appointment of local councils adopted by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) since 1994. These elections have a special importance as all Palestinian political parties participate in them. They enjoy a public consensus and are supported by all Islamic and nationalist political powers, including those which boycotted the Palestinian presidential election that was held on 9 January 2005, and the first general elections under the PNA which were held in January 1996. However, the PNA postponed holding elections of local councils over the past years and instead adopted a policy of appointments of local councils throughout the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The PNA used the lack of appropriate political conditions, including the deadlock of the peace process and Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights, as a pretext to postpone elections. As local and general elections was a persistent demand after the Palestinian Legislative Council issued the Reform Document in May 2002, which called for a series of steps to make reforms in the PNA, including holding elections as soon as possible, the PNA took serious steps to prepare for holding elections. On 28 May 2002, the late PNA President Yasser Arafat issued a presidential decree establishing the HCLE to be headed by then Minster of Local Government Jamal al-Shoubaki. In July 2003, al-Shoubaki declared that the HCLE “initiated preparations for holding elections of local councils in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” emphasizing that the HCLE “will propose its vision and working plan to the cabinet to take necessary measures to hold elections in any town or community where appropriate conditions are available without waiting holding elections at the national level.” On 31 December 2003, the Minister of Local Government declared that local elections were likely to be held in the mid of 2004 in areas where appropriate conditions were available. In the last weeks of 2004, new developments took place with regard to the structure of the PNA following the death of President Yasser Arafat on 11 November 2004 and the subsequent peaceful transition of authority. A series of important steps were taken with regard to holding elections. On 9 January 2005, the Palestinian presidential election was held, and the parliamentary elections were decided to be held in July 2005. The first phase of elections of Palestinian local councils was also held.
The local elections are held in accordance with Law 5 of 1996 and its amendments related to the elections of local councils. They are supervised by the HCLE, whose members are appointed according to the aforementioned law by a decree that is issued by the president of the PNA. This Committee is head by Minister of Local Government. PCHR has criticized the existence of this Committee as there is a parallel committee – CEC – which supervises the presidential and parliamentary elections, calling for establishing one national body according to the constitution to supervise both the general and local elections. Under Law 5 of 2004 enacted on 1 December 2004 amending Law 5 of 1996, the HCLE is abolished and replaced by the CEC, but it will continue its duties for one year. Accordingly, the HCLE is the legal body which is responsible for organising and supervise the current local elections. Law 5 of 2004 was also amended to ensure positive discrimination for women; article 28 of the Law prescribes that “wherever women are nominated for candidature, the representation of women in local councils must not be less than two seats to be afforded to those who win the highest number of votes among female candidates.”
PCHR has always supported initiatives to hold free and fair elections under the PNA. PCHR has welcomed holding elections for any local council, as elections for local councils have gained momentum due the wide participation of all Palestinian partisan entities. These elections are supported by both at the public and partisan levels, including partisan entities that boycotted the Palestinian presidential election that was held on 9 January 2005, and the general elections that were held in January 1996.
In a continuation of its role in monitoring Palestinian elections, on the day that followed holding the second stage of the first round of local elections, PCHR issued a preliminary evaluation of these elections. According to this evaluation, the elections were held in a quiet, organized and transparent atmosphere. Furthermore, PCHR highly appreciated all efforts made to ensure success for these elections, especially the role played by the HCLE to impressively organize these elections, the role played by local and international observers in monitoring these elections, which created an atmosphere of fairness and transparency in all stages of the electoral process.
This report constitutes the conclusion of monitoring conducted by PCHR over polling and counting in elections of local councils. It highlights PCHR’s role in monitoring the local elections; technical preparations in polling centres and stations; commencement of polling; end of polling; compilation of counting protocols at the HCLE Executive Office; and challenges of results of the elections. In the end, a number of notes and recommendations are concluded.
The full report is available PDF format.