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Source: South Africa
10 January 2005

Statement on the observations by the South African delegation to the Palestinian Presidential elections 10 January 2005

The South African Observer Mission to the Palestinian Elections takes this opportunity to congratulate the President-elect, on his election as President of the Palestinian National Authority. We would further wish to commend the other candidates for the dignified manner in which they carried out their campaigns.

May we congratulate the Central Electoral Commission on the manner in which they conducted the election. The expression of support and solidarity by the international community in sending hundreds of international observers has added value and credibility to this election. Above all, the Palestinian people are to be praised for having made this election successful under the difficult and unique circumstances of occupation.

On Palestinian Election Day, 9 January 2005, the South African Observer Mission toured much of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Members of the delegation were deployed to a number of major cities in the West Bank, including Jericho, Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron and surrounding villages and refugee camps.

The team was impressed by the professionalism in the overall preparations of the Palestinian election officials in most of the stations visited. Polling stations were opened on time and voting was conducted in an orderly manner, with clear voter information, security, assistance and the creation of an environment conducive to conducting elections. The observer mission noted reasonable levels of voter turnout and a good representation of woman, the elderly and youth. Turnout was particularly high in the rural areas. The team noted that there were isolated incidents where voter-education could have been strengthened. Voters appeared to approach the elections with much enthusiasm and excitement.

In general, it appeared to the delegation that Israel had eased some of the restrictions to facilitate access to voting stations by the Palestinians, particularly in the West Bank cities, although there were still incidents of the prevention of free movement. The large number of voting stations also contributed to the lessening of the distances for voters to travel in order to cast their ballot.

Of particular concern to the delegation was the limited number of voting stations in East Jerusalem, which seemed to have presented voters and election officials with challenges that may not necessarily have been addressed in line with international norms. It was also noted that inadequate and inappropriate venues were used for the purpose of voting, since the environment was not conductive to the casting of a secret ballot. The absence of a complete voters roll for East Jerusalem seemed to have resulted in many voters being turned away. East Jerusalem lacked the Central Registry System that was applied in other cities in the West Bank, allowing for voters to register and cast their ballots at the same time. This meant that Palestinians in East Jerusalem, who sought to exercise their right to vote and were not reflected on the voters list, did not have an alternate option and therefore they were unable to vote. This resulted in chaos and confusion.

The delegation is also concerned with the situation in Gaza, particularly in Khan Younis, where an Israeli helicopter landed showing overt force, which may be interpreted as intimidation. The closure of the Rafah border and the subsequent prevention of thousands of Palestinians from entering Rafah and casting their ballot raise dire questions on the prevention of access to voting stations.

There were no reports of serious violence and the political parties should be commended for the manner in which they conducted themselves throughout the process by adhering to the Electoral Code of Conduct. The competition was healthy and this was reflected in the interaction between supporters of candidates.

Whilst we await the confirmation of the final results, the South African observers are confident that the conduct during this democratic process demonstrates the will and determination of the Palestinian people to consolidate democracy and good governance in the occupied territories. As South Africans, we would like to reaffirm our support of the ongoing efforts in Palestine towards promoting democracy, good governance and commitment to the principle of peace building. As a delegation, we support our Government's commitment to assisting the leadership of Palestine to achieve and consolidate peace, stability and security. It is hoped that this would result in positive developments in resuming negotiations between Israel and Palestine and hence the establishment of a sovereign, independent State of Palestine. We call on the international community to continue to support the Peace process and encourage an end to the current impasse between Israel and Palestine.

South African Observer Mission to the Palestinian Presidential Elections

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