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Source: Carter Center
21 October 2012






FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Oct. 21, 2012
Contact: Deanna Congileo, +1404-420-5108
In Ramallah: David Viveash, +972 (0)54 977 5603

Palestine Electoral Study Mission Urges Political Reconciliation

Summary
The Oct. 20, 2012 municipal polls, the first to be held in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT) since 2006, took place under significant pressures, including the conduct of elections while under Israeli occupation, the political impasse between the two leading Palestinian political movements, and the continued erosion of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms by political actors in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Although well administered by the Central Elections Commission (CEC), the polls were marked by a lack of political pluralism and limited competition, with one major party boycotting the polls. Despite these challenges, and considering that elections at all levels in the OPT are long overdue, these polls are a positive but limited step towards the realization of democratization in the OPT.

The municipal elections help to begin revitalizing local governance structures whose mandate had expired 3 and 4 years ago. In the most severe instances, local bodies had not been elected in decades. The Oct. 20 polls were conducted in 26 percent of the municipalities in the West Bank, covering an estimated 52 percent of the population. A lack of political competition resulted in the election by acclamation of candidate lists in 181 locations. Citing harassment of its members and the need for political reconciliation before the holding of elections, Hamas boycotted the polls.

The impact of the Israeli occupation on the electoral process and democracy building within the (OPT) cannot be underestimated, as it profoundly impedes the exercise of Palestinian rights of assembly, association, speech, movement and other fundamental freedoms. Moreover, the impasse within the Palestinian political system, particularly the conflict between Fatah and Hamas, cannot be disconnected from this wider framework of disempowerment and the lack of the right to self-determination.

While the occupation hinders genuine democratic development, the two main Palestinian political parties have not taken sufficient steps within their control to help ensure democratic governance. The internal political divide has prevented the conduct of democratic elections at all levels throughout the OPT for years. While the Oct. 20 municipal elections were conducted without major security incidents, the political and electoral environment surrounding the municipal polls restricted the full enjoyment of voters' political and civic rights, underscoring an urgent need for Palestinian political leaders to overcome the deepening rift between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Prolonged failure to implement political reconciliation agreements has contributed to a serious and increasingly permanent division of the Palestinian people and territory. The Palestinian people have suffered under governing regimes with decreasing legitimacy, human rights abuses including political detention and arrests against supporters of rival political factions and the abuse of fundamental freedoms. The Carter Center urges Palestinian leaders to proceed with reconciliation as established in the Cairo and Doha agreements, including the holding of much needed and belated national elections, the formation of an interim government and the renewed respect for human rights in the OPT.

In response to an invitation from the Central Election Commission (CEC), The Carter Center conducted a pre-election assessment Sept. 17-24. Based on this visit, the Center decided to deploy a study mission due to concerns that the environment in which the elections were held inhibited the full exercise of political and participatory rights. Study mission members, accredited as guests by the CEC, were deployed Oct 15-20 and assessed specific aspects of the electoral process related to the legal framework and the administration of the local government elections. The study mission met with election officials, political party and civil society representatives, members of the international community, and other stakeholders in the occupied West Bank including East Jerusalem.

This statement provides comments on the electoral environment, the legal framework of the elections, the political space circumscribing the electoral competition and the dynamics of democratic participation in the OPT. It offers recommendations for future electoral processes to Palestinian authorities, political parties and civil society in the spirit of support for the strengthening of democratic participation in the OPT. The electoral process is studied against the Palestinian legal and election administration framework as well as international commitments agreed by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority (PA) for democratic elections, the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the OPT. Carter Center electoral study missions are limited in nature. In this case, the study mission did not deploy observers to polling stations and could not consider all aspects of the electoral process. Therefore, The Carter Center is unable to make a comprehensive assessment of this electoral process.

Electoral Background
Political disagreements have prevented the scheduling of democratic elections in the OPT for several years. The Oct. 20, 2012 local elections were the first to be held since 2006. Presidential and Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections are long overdue. Local elections were announced and cancelled in both 2010 and 2011. As a result of the cancellation of the 2010 local elections, four electoral lists filed a lawsuit that challenged the Council of Ministers' right to cancel elections. The Palestinian High Court ruled that once the Council authorized elections, it did not have authority to cancel them.[1] In early 2011, after announcing that local government elections would be scheduled later in the year, President Abbas issued a presidential decree postponing those elections indefinitely until suitable conditions arose that allowed for the conduct of elections in all governorates. The PA called for municipal polls in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on July 10, 2012. A decision was subsequently taken on July 24 to proceed with municipal council elections in the West Bank only.

The 2012 local council elections help to revitalize local governance and strengthen the accountability of local officials to their constituents. The mandate of councils elected in the four rounds of elections conducted in 2004 and 2005 expired in 2008 and 2009, respectively. Many were extended or re-appointed as caretaker councils by the Minister of Local Government in order to provide continuity for municipalities throughout the West Bank. Following the 2007 Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip, several councils led by Hamas were removed from office. A fifth round of local elections, scheduled for the spring of 2006, was never held due to the growing political tensions between the two major political parties. Thus some municipalities are going to the polls for the first time since 1976.

Political Environment
Genuine democratic elections require a political environment that respects fundamental freedoms and the right to participation.[2] A genuine election is generally understood to be fulfilled when it ensures universal and equal suffrage and a number of other fundamental freedoms, including the rights to vote, to be elected and to participate in public affairs, along with the freedoms of assembly, association, movement and opinion.

Most interlocutors with whom the Carter Center study mission met were enthusiastic about the elections. They were described as restoring dignity to a population that had little hope and declining opportunities. Elections were said to be important for change, to give the electorate an opportunity to elect their representatives, to reinvigorate the political process and to sustain democracy. However, the prevailing view was driven by pragmatic considerations: local elections are by nature not framed politically but are more service oriented; they would respond to local community needs. Some interlocutors commented that the elections also had a wider political significance as a prelude to holding national elections in the foreseeable future.

The lack of political achievement by the Palestinian Authority was cited frequently as the Achilles Heel of the current administration. The difficult social and economic situation in the OPT has affected the mood of the people. As a consequence, many interlocutors predicted the turnout would be between 40-45 percent of registered voters. The final turnout on Oct. 20 was 54 percent.

Hamas announced a boycott of the local elections, citing Fatah's failure to implement the recent reconciliation agreements and the absence of a political environment where they could campaign freely. According to some interlocutors, Hamas members in the West Bank were allegedly under strict instructions not to participate as candidates in the elections and were told to discourage known supporters from voting. There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that many Hamas supporters intended to vote and some were quietly supporting candidates in some communities. Public opinion polling conducted in September indicated that 85 percent of registered voters in the West Bank supported the holding of local elections.

Some interlocutors, including rival party representatives, regretted Hamas' decision not to participate in the local elections because it reduced the choice available to voters and meant that councils were less pluralistic. Some Hamas supporters regarded the boycott as a matter of principle. While regretting that they were not participating, they reiterated to the Carter Center study mission that they were not accorded the same rights to exercise their political views as other parties. They also indicated that they would have participated in these elections had they been able to freely express their views, without fear of harassment, arrest and detention.

Some interlocutors defended the movement's decision to boycott the elections, pointing to the difficulties experienced by Hamas officials and known supporters following the 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections. According to some Hamas PLC members, all but one of their ranks has been arrested or detained under administrative orders by Israeli forces during the past six years. Hamas officials serving on municipal councils were either dismissed or pressured to resign. Following the 2006 elections, many international donors suspended assistance to municipalities headed by Hamas officials.

Legal Framework
A sound legal framework is essential to ensure genuine democratic elections that guarantee the free expression of the will of the voters.[3] States must not only take steps to ensure that human rights are protected, but also provide access to an effective remedy for any violations.[4]

The legal framework for the municipal elections is composed of the Amended 2005 Palestinian Basic Law, the 2005 Local Council Elections Law and its amendments of 2005 and 2012, and commitments made by the PLO regarding its international obligations for genuine elections. The PLO and the PA have voluntarily committed to a series of international and regional human rights treaties whose provisions are relevant for the electoral process. These treaties include the Arab Charter on Human Rights, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESC), and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The Law on Local Elections is largely unchanged since it was adopted in December 2005. Most of the Mission's interlocutors found that the law provides a generally adequate framework to conduct elections, although some suggested that improvements could have been put in place before the elections were called. After the election, the authorities should consider those proposals for reform identified by key stakeholders in the electoral process.

Local councils have between nine and 15 members depending on the size of the municipality or village. The legislation provides that all councilors are elected from among 'closed' candidate lists with seats allocated according to a proportional representation system, subject to lists receiving at least 8 percent of the valid vote. The name of the list, its number and symbol appear on the ballot paper rather than the names of all candidates, a practice which could lessen voters' understanding of the process.

In 2004 and 2005, local elections took place only in communities with over 1,000 inhabitants. The Ministry of Local Government decided that for the 2012 elections almost all communities with the exception of very small villages would be given the opportunity to elect their local representatives. The extension of local representation is a generally positive development, but some communities appeared unready to select their representatives through competitive elections. The ministry's decision to form a single council for Dura and the surrounding villages was controversial because it was taken only after the candidate nomination process was underway in what would have been separate contests. Ultimately, the issue was decided by the High Court, which rejected the CEC's decision to proceed with separate elections in the localities.

Election Administration
An independent and impartial electoral authority that functions transparently and professionally is recognized internationally as an effective means of ensuring that citizens are able to participate in genuine democratic elections and that other international obligations related to the electoral process are met.

The 2004 - 2005 local elections were administered by the Higher Committee for Local Elections (HCLE). This body operated under the auspices of the Ministry of Local Government, and as such was not wholly independent. In a positive development, the mandate for organizing local elections was passed to the CEC in December 2005.

The 2012 local elections further strengthened the reputation of the CEC as an independent electoral authority and its executive office as an efficient management body. Prior to the elections the mission's interlocutors expressed their general confidence in the integrity of the electoral process, largely because they trusted the CEC's oversight. The CEC Chairman enjoys a high level of confidence among political contestants and the electorate. The CEC attempted to ensure that the elections were organized in strict accordance with the letter of the law. The CEC Chairman took a principled stand on the question of holding elections in the municipality of Dura.

In the run up to the elections, the CEC held a number of meetings with parties and local civic organizations with a view to ensuring the availability of complete information about the electoral process, both online and through public outreach campaigns. Some interlocutors suggested that political considerations influenced the appointment of some CEC commissioners. In the event that the CEC's membership is altered before the next elections, great care should be taken to ensure that the commission's non-partisan character is steadfastly maintained.

In August, the CEC updated the West Bank voter registries to reflect changes in residency, deaths and those who turned 18 since the registry had been updated in March 2011. Participation in the voter registration exercise was lower than expected, possibly due to the reduced working hours of the registration centers during the month of Ramadan. According to some interlocutors, the CEC anticipated that only 72 percent of the potential eligible electorate is registered to vote. Following the update of the registry, 963,493 electors are included in the West Bank registers. No voter registration has taken place in the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem since 2005. The contesting lists were entitled to receive copies of the voter lists.

Early polling for security forces took place in 11 polling centers on Oct. 18. Some concerns were expressed about the potential for these voters to cast ballots on Oct. 20 as well. While the CEC did not consider this to be a serious risk, it sought and received agreement from the Ministry of Interior to publicly display the names of early voters, which enhanced transparency and may have allayed fears in this regard. On Oct. 20, voting and counting took place in 330 polling centers across the West Bank. The CEC accredited 1,885 local observers and 455 journalists thereby providing a significant level of scrutiny. Due to its limited presence and mandate, the Carter Center study mission did not observe the polling.

Voting totals were aggregated at the CEC's District Offices with preliminary election results announced in localities at the conclusion of the vote counting and by the CEC on Oct. 21. The CEC will calculate the allocation of seats among the lists according to the vote totals received and will announce final results within 72 hours of the close of the polls. In keeping with the CEC's established practice, the CEC informed international observers that it would post individual polling station results on its website, thereby adding an important layer of transparency to the process.

Genuine and Periodic Elections
Elections must be held at regular intervals, and be scheduled with adequate time to prepare and implement, in order to ensure that the authority of the government is continually representative of the will of the voter. Certain participatory rights must also be fulfilled in order for the voting process to accurately reflect a genuine election.[5] Foremost among these are the right to vote, to participate in public affairs, and to enjoy security of person.[6]

In meetings conducted by the Carter Center study mission team, some interlocutors were hopeful that these elections could give voice to a frustrated electorate and strengthen the ability of local governments to provide essential services based on community need. The delays in holding elections is of concern because it has diminished the legitimacy of the Palestinian government, obstructs Palestinians' fundamental right to stand for office and to elect their representatives at reasonable intervals. In this context, even though the local elections did not take place in the Gaza Strip or East Jerusalem, and not all contests that took place in the West Bank were competitive, the holding of local government elections is in itself a welcome event.

Local Governance in Jerusalem
Although the Oslo Accords gave the Palestinian Authority a degree of autonomy and authority over the West Bank and Gaza Strip, these areas, as well as East Jerusalem, remain under Israeli occupation. The occupation has a significant impact on Palestinian political processes, including for local governance. As foreseen under laws established during Jordanian rule, Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem have been represented by an appointed, rather than elected, Palestinian council, thereby depriving East Jerusalemite voters of the opportunity to elect their representatives in competitive polls and to participate actively in political and civic affairs at the municipal level. This effectively disenfranchises East Jerusalimites from local government affairs.

Candidates, Parties and Nominations
Equitable treatment of candidates and parties during an election, as well as the maintenance of an open and transparent campaign environment, are important to protecting the integrity of the democratic election process.[7]

Hamas announced its intention to boycott the municipal polls shortly after these elections were called in July. As one of two major political movements in the OPT, the movement's decision lessened the competitiveness of the process and resulted in a situation whereby Fatah was left to contest elections either against smaller parties, in coalition with them under a united PLO banner, or against its own members who formed 'independent' candidate lists. The Carter Center study mission heard frequent criticisms that Fatah had politicized the local elections by attempting to control the number and composition of lists. A senior Fatah official rejected this criticism, arguing that communities were free to establish multiple lists, and cited the example that in the 1240-person village of Qira in the Salfit governorate, there were nine lists competing in the polls.

Internal party democracy and candidate selection were criticized by some Fatah activists. Fatah representatives informed the Carter Center pre-election assessment team that the party had allowed local officials to determine the selection and order of lists in their municipalities. Some interlocutors said that this practice encouraged favoritism and encouraged those Fatah members who were not selected to form competing lists as independents. The Fatah Central Committee told party members that any party cadres who participated in alternate lists would be fired. At the time of the writing this report, the Carter Center study mission was informed that 27 members of Fatah had been expelled.

Candidate lists could be submitted from Sept. 1-10 in 353 local government localities. Based on information received from the CEC, in 82 municipalities – mostly small villages – no valid candidate list was submitted and subsequently the CEC decided to re-open nominations and postpone elections to a second round on Nov. 24. In 179 localities, either only one valid candidate list was submitted or following withdrawal of candidate lists, only one list remained. While these were mostly small villages, they constituted 33 percent of the registered voter population of the West Bank.

The candidates of a sole valid electoral list are considered elected "by acclamation". According to a Fatah representative, the party's candidates were in the majority on 149 of 179 municipalities with a single approved list. The remaining lists consist of known Fatah personalities or political associates, or various coalitions of small parties including the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Palestinian People's Party (PPP), Palestine National Initiative (Al Mubadara), Palestine Democratic Union (FIDA) and others. In 35 localities, Fatah and some of the smaller political parties ran joint "PLO lists." The DFLP and Fatah presented joint lists in other locations.

Some interlocutors stated that the submission of only one list was the consequence of communities meeting to reach agreement on the composition of their councils. However, this method of selecting representatives cannot guarantee that all eligible electors in a community are given an equal opportunity to express their views. It also means that those involved in the selection process are required to state their views publicly rather than in the privacy of a voting booth, a factor that impinges on their freedom to express their political views. Some interlocutors claimed that in some localities, rival lists were pressured to withdraw their nominations with the result that only one list remained registered. However a senior Fatah official defended single list polls as representing a legitimate consensus from family-dominated local political decision making. The Carter Center study mission was not in a position to verify these claims.

Multiple candidate lists were filed in 93 local government municipalities. While this figure is only 26 percent of the total number of councils, they include all the largest urban centers and contain 52 percent of the registered West Bank voters.

According to the CEC Chairman, 32 candidate lists were rejected due to technical deficiencies, including missing paperwork or lists that included one or more candidates who did not reside in the given municipality. One well-known Palestinian election observer group stated that the CEC had applied overly restrictive criteria in deciding not to register some of these. Some candidates filed appeals with district courts. Mission interlocutors, including the CEC, felt that the courts in the various districts had not been consistent in interpreting the legislation when deciding these cases. Three lists were re-instated by the courts following the appeal process.

Women's Participation and Minority Representation
International human rights treaties foresee that women shall enjoy equal rights to men, and that in some cases, states shall take special, temporary measures to achieve de facto equality for women. State obligations to promote de facto equality for women derive, in part, from broader obligations regarding the absence of discrimination and the right of all citizens to participate in the public affairs of their country regardless of gender.[8]

The electoral law requires that each election list must contain the name of at least one woman in each set of five consecutive names, guaranteeing that at least 20 percent of candidates are female. While these efforts to increase women's participation on municipal councils are welcome, this system does not guarantee that 20 percent of elected councilors would be women. In areas where there are multiple candidate lists, female candidates might not have been placed in sufficiently high positions in order to win seats. Women headed some candidate lists and the registration of an all-women's list in Hebron gained notoriety. The Local Election Law provides that the President shall announce the quantity of reserved representation for the Christian minority and that the CEC shall issue a regulation to implement the Decree. The Mayors of Ramallah and Bethlehem must be Christian.

Campaigning
The 12-day official election campaign took place from Oct. 6-19. There were ample visible signs of campaigning in the major centers. The Carter Center study mission was informed that a televised candidate debate had taken place involving the competitors for the Ramallah local government poll. Some interlocutors felt that the political change in the wider region had considerably elevated the public's grievances related to social and economic conditions, which could be reflected in a strong backlash against the PA. Others noted that delays in paying the salaries of government employees could depress voter turnout. With the exception of Nablus, the mission was not informed of serious frictions between competing lists. Campaign finance rules require candidate lists to submit detailed financial statements of campaign-related expenditure to the CEC within one month of the declaration of final results. According to the CEC, however, there is limited transparency in campaign finances as they are not required to register as legal entities.

Reconciliation
The right of individuals to participate in public affairs, including the establishment of political parties and freedoms of association, expression and assembly are obligations under domestic and international law.[9] While the local elections provide an opportunity to begin revitalizing municipal governing structures and strengthen the legitimacy of elected officials, the political environment in which the polls are taking place severely restricts the fundamental political freedoms of all concerned stakeholders. Democratic governance in the OPT is significantly, negatively impacted by the protracted political division between Fatah and Hamas, and the continued territorial division of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Since the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007, a series of reconciliation agreements have attempted to rebuild a unified Palestinian political system, including holding national elections, in order to renew the mandate and legitimacy of Palestinian political institutions. Critical elements of the agreements included:

Implementation of agreed steps is effectively frozen. The division between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip continues to deepen. Since the implementation of the reconciliation agreements between Hamas and Fatah stalled, the two main movements have accused one another of failing to meet their obligations. The division between Fatah and Hamas, and the territorial division between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, is worsening and is in danger of becoming permanent. The immediate consequence of this situation has been a reinforcement the profound divisions within the Palestinian polity.

Serious violations of Hamas supporters' political rights in the West Bank and Fatah supporters' political rights in the Gaza Strip are continuing. The Carter Center study mission was informed that in recent weeks PA General Intelligence and Preventive Security forces have arrested, detained and imprisoned a number of Hamas members in the West Bank. Although in smaller numbers similar measures have reportedly been taken against Fatah members by Hamas security services in the Gaza Strip. Most interlocutors, including those with known party affiliations and others claiming to be independent, were critical of these arrests.

In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinian human rights organizations have reported the shuttering of NGOs affiliated with the rival party and the firing of public sector employees for their political views. A recent ruling by the Palestinian High Court to reinstate former public servants in the West Bank who were dismissed on the basis of partisan affiliations has not yet been implemented. Contrary to the reconciliation agreements, efforts to facilitate technical measures to allow the registration and participation of all eligible voters in future electoral processes in the Gaza Strip were effectively impeded. Although the CEC was allowed to re-establish its presence in the Gaza Strip in anticipation of municipal, PLC and presidential elections, the planned voter registration was suspended by the Gaza authorities on the day before the voter registration period was to begin. The Hamas government refused to allow the process to proceed, arguing that Fatah had failed to fulfill its obligations under the May 2012 Cairo agreement. The Carter Center regrets the decision to stop the voter registration process and urges the Hamas authorities to allow these technical steps to be implemented.

Recommendations
The following recommendations are offered for consideration:

The Carter Center in the Occupied Palestinian Territory
The Carter Center has observed all three Palestinian national elections, including the presidential and Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections in 1996, presidential elections in 2005, and PLC elections in 2006. The Center has maintained a field presence in Ramallah since 2006 and representation in Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

The Center's observation missions are conducted in accordance with the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation and Code of Conduct that was adopted at the United Nations in 2005 and has been endorsed by 37 election observation groups. The Center will release periodic public statements available on its website: www.cartercenter.org.
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"Waging Peace. Fighting Disease. Building Hope."
A not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization, The Carter Center has helped to improve life for people in more than 70 countries by resolving conflicts; advancing democracy, human rights, and economic opportunity; preventing diseases; improving mental health care; and teaching farmers in developing nations to increase crop production. The Carter Center was founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, in partnership with Emory University, to advance peace and health worldwide.


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1 According to the Municipal Council Elections Law No. 12 of 2005, elections can be postponed for four weeks upon a recommendation by the CEC if they cannot be held for technical reasons.
2 See Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), art. 21 (stating that "the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage…"); Arab Charter on Human Rights (ACHR), art. 33; Palestinian Basic Law (Basic Law), art. 26.3.
3 UDHR, art. 21; ACHR, art. 33; Basic Law, art. 26.3.
4 Convention on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), art. 2; ACHR, art. 2 (requiring the state to take necessary steps to ensure rights). UDHR, art. 8 (right to an effective remedy).
5 UDHR, art. 21; See UN, Human Rights and Elections, para. 76 (establishing that the extent to which the will of the people has been fully expressed is dependent on whether other obligations associated with the electoral process have been upheld).
6 Basic Law arts. 26 (right to participate in political life, right to vote), and 11; International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESC), art. 5 (political rights, right to security of person).
7 Basic Law, art. 26 (political rights); ACHR, art. 33 (access to public office).
8 Basic Law, art. 9 (equal before law and judiciary); CEDAW, arts. 7 and 15.1.
9 Basic Law arts. 26 (right to participate in political life, right to vote), and 11; International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESC), art. 5 (political rights, right to security of person).


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