Published @ 14.00 GMT on 27 January 1996
ELECTION UPDATE NO.4
The fourth report of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights
on the Palestinian elections
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights has as one of its basic aims the promotion of democratic civil society in the areas under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority. As part of this work the Palestinian Centre has been involved in monitoring the electoral process, from the issuing of a draft election law to the counting of votes. Throughout this period we have prepared three election bulletins and made numerous interventions to the bodies responsible for the administration of the election. On the day a round-the-clock Election Monitoring Unit was established and 30 officially-accredited workers were based in the field to monitor the process of voting on election day. These staff were supported by 50 Palestinian Centre unofficial observers. The mandate of the Election Monitoring Unit of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights was to support the development of an electoral process in the Gaza Strip, which accord to international human rights standards. This paper sets out our observations of the election day, 20 January 1996.
The elections, in our view, were genuine and represented the exercise of the will of the electorate. Generally speaking the administration was carried out in a professional and dedicated manner by the Palestinian election staff at each stage of the elections. The Palestinian general elections for the Council and President, the first of their kind, had a very high percentage of participation in the Palestinian elections from voters and from candidates and other people actively involved in the political process.
In this report the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights has identified numerous problems which arose during election day. However these did not appear to be a deliberate and officially-sanctioned attempt to influence the results of the elections. In fact a number of the problems which arose were indicative of the limited experience Palestinians have had of elections. But this limited experience did not seem to affect the outcome of the elections.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights’ election observers were deeply impressed by the conduct of the Palestinian people and their appreciation of their role in the democratic process of elections. It is hoped that these elections will be followed by future genuine and periodic elections, where the experience gained will ensure that many of the problems which have occurred in 1996 are not repeated.
This report concludes our series of bulletins on the Palestinian elections. It focuses on the preparedness of the Polling Stations, the opening and closing of voting, the casting and counting of votes and the declaration of the results. This report in English was prepared on the basis of the original Arabic version.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights’ Election Monitoring Unit
The Election Monitoring Programme of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights has been supported by the NGO network and its volunteers in the Gaza Strip. The aim was to monitor the elections from inception to completion in order to determine how free, fair and genuine these elections were in relation to international human rights standards.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights had 30 volunteers accredited with local monitoring status by the Central Elections Commission (CEC). This accreditation came after much negotiation and lobbying of the CEC. Some 50 other volunteers were recruited from amongst Palestinian NGOs based in the Gaza Strip, to support the work of the accredited workers. The staff and volunteers worked tirelessly and with professionalism. Their sterling efforts were invaluable to ensure that the Palestinian elections were monitored locally.
The Election Monitoring Team was based in the field across all five of the constituencies in the Gaza Strip and throughout the Polling Stations. They were in direct and regular contact with the Election Monitoring Unit based at the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights’ offices in Gaza City.
The Palestinian Centre trained its staff and volunteers to ensure that their election activities were carried out within appropriate guidelines, and that they documented accurately and objectively, without interference to the electorate or the election process. Their observations are set out in this report.
ELECTION CAMPAIGN BREACHES OF THE ELECTION LAW
Articles 54 and 55 of the Election Law provide that election campaigning must end 24 hours before voting begins. The Palestinian Centre’s Observation Team encountered a number of incidents where campaigning for candidates contravened these provisions.
i. On Friday 19 January, the CEC published an order in Al-Belad newspaper requiring all election campaigning to cease in accordance with the provisions of the Election Law. However, Palestinian newspapers continued to publish campaign advertisements for candidates, even up to election day, in violation of the Law and the CEC’s order. The CEC took no measures against candidates or newspapers who violated the law in this way.
ii. Similarly, the CEC did not take steps to ensure that campaigners removed their posters and slogans from public places on Friday 19, as required in the Election Law; such materials still adorned the streets on election day.
iii. The most serious incidents were reported on election day where campaign vehicles were active in the streets throughout the Gaza Strip; even more serious were the incidents where some candidates campaigned in and around Polling Stations, distributing campaign materials and lobbying voters.
DELAYS DUE TO INSUFFICIENT VOTING MATERIALS
There were 498 Polling Stations in the Gaza Strip which covered the five constituencies under Palestinian jurisdiction. The Election Law required each District Election Commission (the body responsible for administering the elections in each constituency) to provide ballot papers and envelopes (“voting materials”) to each Polling Station Commission (responsible for administration within a Polling Station) 24 hours before voting was to begin. The Law required that there should be at least 25% more voting materials than the number of registered voters (Article 62).
The District Commissions began distributing closed boxes to ballot stations in the afternoon of Thursday 18 January in the presence of members of the Polling Station Commissions. This was completed in the early hours of Friday 19 January. UNRWA trucks and staff were utilised for this task, and in some cases international observers witnessed the transport of the boxes. Members of the Polling Station Commissions were informed that the boxes contained ballot papers, envelopes, pens, stamps and white paper. All these materials were kept in closed rooms in each Polling Station and under police guard.
On the evening of 18 January members of the Polling Station Commissions were asked to go to their respective Polling Stations, to receive the two ballot boxes allocated for each Station. One to be used for the votes cast for President, and the other for the Council representatives.
i. The casting of votes had to be stopped in some Polling Stations for periods of time because there were insufficient voting materials (See “Shortcomings of the Voting Process” below).
LACK OF PREPAREDNESS OF POLLING STATIONS ON ELECTION DAY
Each Polling Station had to have a number of voting booths to ensure secrecy of voting. The CEC was responsible for allocating voting booths as well as all other characteristics of the polling stations, including the provision of four copies of the Electoral Register (one of which must be displayed in a visible place, in the Polling Station, and the others to be used by members of the Polling Station Commission).
i. Voting booths were made from cardboard, closed on three sides and were large enough to accommodate only one person. Worryingly, booths were not provided at all in a number of Polling Stations so that peophto votin open conditions, and were thus denied the right of secret ballot. For example, Polling Station No.63 in Gaza City constituency had no voting booths.
ii. Even where booths were provided, in some cases they were not positioned in a manner which guaranteed secrecy. Under the guidelines issued by the CEC the open side of the voting booth must face a wall. Instances were recorded where the open side faced the public.
iii. Although Electoral Registers were distributed to all Polling Stations, some were not printed clearly. Also, many registered voters did not find their names on the Register, although they had registered to vote and had received registration cards. This created confusion and delay in some Polling Stations. The CEC dealt with these voters, on election day itself, by declaring that anyone whose name did not appear on the Register, but who held a voting registration card, and fulfilled the criteria for inclusion on the Electoral Register, could vote. In these instances, Identification Cards were stamped and the persons name entered on a separate list.
SHORTCOMINGS IN THE HANDLING OF SOME BALLOT BOXES
Before the polls were opened the Election Law required the President of the Polling Station Commission to open the ballot boxes in front of the members of the Commission and the candidates’ agents present, in order to make sure that they were empty. The ballot boxes were then to be closed and sealed with red wax. The boxes were not to be opened again until the commencement of the count.
i. Ballot boxes at some Polling Stations were not sealed by red wax but with padlocks. At Polling Station No.39, North Gaza Constituency, the ballot box allocated for the president was left open until 8.40am when voting was stopped so that the box could be locked. At Stations Nos. 132 and 134 in Gaza City constituency, the ballot boxes were left open until an international observer locked and sealed them.
ii. A number of Polling Stations had filled their ballot boxes before voting had ended. These were then opened in front of observers and candidates’ agents and emptied into nylon sacks which were then tied. Reports do not indicate foul play by these practices, as all boxes and sacks were filled and emptied in the presence and supervision of candidates’ agents and local and international monitors.
SHORTCOMINGS IN THE VOTING PROCESS
According to the Election Law voting was to begin at 7.00am on election day and was to end at 7.00pm on that day. The Polling Station Commissions checked voters’ names on the Register and then people voted in secret in the voting booths. Each voter was to deposit one envelope containing their vote for the president and one for the council, in the presence of members of the Polling Station Commissions, candidates agents and observers.
i. The opening of polls was delayed at some Polling Stations. For example, Polling Station No.5 in North Gaza constituency did not open until 9.36am because it did not have any ballot papers; No.80 in the same constituency did not open its polls until 8.15am because the stamps (with which the envelope and ballot paper must be stamped before being handed to the voter) were not provided; Polling Station No.33 in Khan Younis did not open until 7.45am because the keys for the ballot boxes could not be found, and thus it could not be verified that they were empty before the opening of polls.
ii. Most voting at the Polling Stations began on time or delays in their opening were not remarkable. This is a positive record which deserves recognition.
iii. Although voting was conducted in relative calm at most Stations, there were numerous reports of confusion due to overcrowding, which resulted in chaos. For example Polling Station No.13 in Rafah was attended by 120 people simultaneously and the police had to intervene to preserve order. This resulted in a 45 minute delay in the commencement of voting. At Station No.47 in Rafah chaos prevailed in the afternoon when many voters entered the Polling Station, resulting in a delay in the continuation of voting so that order could be restored. A similar situation was reported in Station No.4 in Khan Younis. In the evening Station No.7 in Rafah was overcrowded to the extent that, despite interventions, the police could not preserve order. In the morning voting was stopped in Station No.51 of Rafah because of disorganisation resulting from overcrowding. In Station No.48 in North Gaza constituency disorder ensued when 150 persons were pushing to get inside the Station to vote. Similar overcrowding was reported in Stations Nos.27 and 41 of North Gaza constituency.
iv. The problem discussed above, of voters who had registered and received registration cards not finding their names on the Electoral Register, caused confusion and delays. The CEC’s decision to allow them to vote provided a solution to the problem, however it reflected technical shortcomings in preparation of the final Register.
v. Voting was obstructed intermittently at a number of Stations because of disorganisation, due to an insufficient number of voting papers and envelopes. For example voting was stopped in Stations Nos. 44, 46 and 47 in Rafah for half an hour in the morning and half an hour in the afternoon.
vi. Electoral papers were not kept safely. For example, there were very disturbing reports that papers had been smuggled out of some Polling Stations.
vii. Station No.72 in Deir El Balah, Middle Gaza Strip, was established in the open-air, not in an enclosed room, and there were no provisions for secret voting at all. The situation was one of chaos and disorder. There was also chaos in Polling Stations Nos. 39 and 76. In the evening of election day the CEC declared that it would discount the votes from these areas until it could make proper arrangements, in accordance with the Law, and after primary results had been received from all other constituencies. Subsequently, on 24 January, the CEC decided to re-conduct the elections for voters registered at Stations Nos.39 and 76 of Northern Gaza on 31st January 1996. No decision has yet been taken in regard to Station No.72, but at this time the decision to discount the votes deposited there remains. This state of affairs is most irregular and undermines the principles of equal and fair elections at these Polling Stations.
viii.Voting ended around 7.00pm in some Stations, but did not end until after that time in others. For example voting at Station No.47 in Rafah did not end until 9.00pm, and Station No.82 in North Gaza remained open until 11.50pm.
VOTING FOR ILLITERATE AND DISABLED VOTERS
Illiterate and disabled voters were permitted to vote with the assistance of another voter whom they knew, and with the consent of the Polling Station Commission members.
i. In many cases the voting arrangements for illiterate voters were abused. For example in Stations Nos. 16, 18, 19, 20 and 48 in North Gaza it was reported that many illiterate voters were accompanied by voters against their will. Similar situations were reported in Stations Nos.92 and 101 in Khan Younis.
ii. In Stations Nos. 38, 43, 61 and 62 in Khan Younis agents of some candidates voted on behalf of a number of illiterate voters.
In instances where this abuse occurred the principles of equal, free and fair voting were undermined in relation to these voters.
IMPROPRIETY IN SECURITY ARRANGEMENTS AT POLLING STATIONS
According to the Law, the President of the Polling Station Commission is responsible for maintaining order and security within the Polling Station. A number of security personnel or policemen must be on hand in their official capacity.
Security personnel are not allowed to enter any of the Polling Stations unless requested by the President of the Polling Station Commission, and only then for a limited period of time to keep security and order (Article 75).
i. Many policemen wearing their uniforms were present in every Polling Station in official and unofficial capacities.
ii. In individual cases many policemen overrode their mandate and interfered in favour of some of the candidates.For e, in PollStations Nos. 2, 3, 7 and 9 in Northern Gaza constituency, some policemen dismissed the people who were accompanying illiterate voters. Incidents were reported where Identification Cards were taken from several people and members of the police voted in their place. On another occasion a policeman was seen to interfere in favour of a number of candidates in Station No.20 in Northern Gaza, asking voters to elect certain candidates. In Station No.6 in Khan Younis policemen voted instead of electors by taking their identification cards.
iii. In many Stations security personnel were present in civilian clothes. This happened for example in Station No.47 in Rafah. This clearly violated the provisions of the Election Law; security personnel must be in uniform when attending Polling Stations so that they can be distinguishable and identifiable.
These episodes of impropriety by security forces personnel are serious, and undermine the principles of free, fair and equal voting in the Polling Stations where they occurred.
UNHINDERED ACCESS FOR INTERNATIONAL AND LOCAL MONITORS AND THE MEDIA
The Election Law guarantees monitoring of the whole election process by international, local monitors and the media. The Law obliges the administrative bodies who are organising the elections to provide facilities necessary for such monitoring (Article 103).
All accredited monitors representing the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, international monitors and the media had free and easy access to all Polling Stations, and were given all possible assistance by those who supervised the election process. International and local monitors and the media were treated similarly and faced no obstacles in carrying out their work on the day, either from the CEC or security forces personnel. However there was a noticeable and worrying absence of local and international monitors in Polling Stations for periods of time throughout the day.
The Election Law states in Article 77 that vote-counting must be conducted in the presence of all members of the Polling Station Commission, and any candidates and/or their agents, international and domestic observers and journalists who want to be present. The Commission for each Polling Station opened the ballot boxes, and separated the papers where a voting card had been placed in the wrong box. Vote-counting was witnessed in most but not all Polling Stations by candidates’ representatives, and local and international observers who checked that the number of envelopes matched the number of actual voters (Article 78).
i. It is pertinent to mention that those carrying out this work were extremely tired; they had been working for long hours, often as long as 48 hours without a sufficient resting period.
ii. Although the Election Law does not require local or international monitors to be present at vote-counting, their presence was of course preferable, and it is thus of some concern that in many Polling Stations vote-counting was not monitored by local or international observers, due to their insufficient number and the long hours already worked. In many Stations candidates or their representatives were also not present at the count.
iii. Electoral papers were not sent to the District Election Commission after counting the votes as required by the Election Law (Article 81).
iv. Conflicting results of the vote-count for one candidate, Rawia Shawa, were issued by the CEC. These were unofficial but the confusion surrounding her results illustrates inefficiency, inaccuracy and confusion of the CEC in relation to the vote-counting process, and which throws into doubt the whole vote-counting process: It was announced on the morning of 22/01/96 that Rawia Shawa had lost; that afternoon it was announced that she had won a seat; on 23/01/96 an announcement was made that she had lost; that afternoon it was announced that she had won a seat.
v. 25/01/96 was the deadline for the CEC to announce the official results of the elections. However it has was reported that Mahmood Abass, the Head of the CEC left the country on 21/01/96 and had not returned in time for this deadline. Until today there are still no official results for the Council seats.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights is concerned about the problems which arose on election day and in the counting of votes. These problems were generally of an administrative nature and it appears that these were not intended to frustrate the genuine nature of the elections or to hinder the expression of the will of the electorate. Clearly, the nature of elections permits widespread abuse, occasionally this is very difficult to identify. However, the first Palestinian general elections, particularly bearing in mind the numerous obstacles which existed from the beginning, has widely been regarded as a success.