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European Union (EU)
9 January 2005
WEST BANK AND GAZA
9 January 2005
ELECTION OBSERVATION MISSION
1. The 9 January 2005 election for the president of the Palestinian Authority represented a genuine effort to conduct a regular electoral process. Despite the difficult and tense conditions, Palestinian electoral authorities made adequate and sufficient arrangements for voters and the public was enthusiastic to exercise its democratic rights. However, the occupation and continuing violence as well as restrictions on freedom of movement meant that a truly free election was always going to be difficult to achieve.
2. With the exception of some tense parts of the Gaza Strip, the process on election day in the regular polling stations was generally peaceful and voters had sufficient freedom of movement. Checkpoints were noticeably relaxed in some areas, but problems remained in Nablus, Hebron and parts of Gaza. Observers noted that the process in the regular polling stations was well conducted and polling station commissions worked extremely hard and diligently to administer the voting.
3. However there is concern at the decision by the PLC to amend the Law to provide for the use of the civil register for the voting process in addition to the normal Voters List. The Civil Register was not a reliable document and its use placed a great burden on the electoral authorities. Further, the decision in the late afternoon on the day of the election to allow people to vote at the special ‘civil register’ polling stations even if they were not on the list was outside of the law and impacted negatively on the proper administration of voting at these places.
4. It is clear that this decision by the Central Elections Commission (CEC) to change the procedures during the day of the election was only undertaken after serious and sustained pressure by political authorities. This pressure also subsequently resulted in senior election officials considering their resignation. Such action is unacceptable in a democratic election and the Palestinian leadership is strongly urged to ensure that this is not repeated in future elections as it is highly damaging for the quality and credibility of the process.
5. There is also concern at the lack of proper electoral procedures for voters and candidates in East Jerusalem, and it was noted that on election day people faced a lack of clear information and administrative obstacles in exercising their voting right. The Protocol on Elections does not provide proper or reasonable electoral conditions, such as by limiting the process to just five post offices, and the position taken by the Israeli Authorities with regard to refusing to allow Palestinian election officials to be involved in the post offices, refusing to allow adequate preparation by the DEC, together with their closing down of the registration of voters in September, had a profoundly negative impact on the electoral process in Jerusalem. It is clear that for the coming elections the present Israeli-Palestinian agreement concerning elections in East Jerusalem requires reconsideration in order to avoid further tension and problems.
6. The election campaign passed off without major incident directly linked to the campaign, but restrictions were placed on the freedom of movement of candidates. This caused considerable frustration among candidates as they faced obstacles in gaining access to voters, notably in East Jerusalem and Gaza. However, the campaign was vigorously contested, with candidates utilising media advertising and eventually conducting rallies in most areas. Freedom of movement would have been greatly facilitated by clearer and more timely procedures for the granting of permits for candidates and their staff.
7. Overall media coverage of the election campaign provided all candidates with access, though with considerable variances in levels of visibility. Whilst the allocation of a considerable amount of free airtime on public broadcasters (TV and radio) was a positive innovation, the excessive coverage afforded to Mahmoud Abbas in news broadcasts on
public TV and radio, as well as in the publicly financed Al-Hayat daily newspaper, was a serious shortcoming.
8. With the exception of East Jerusalem the voter registration process conducted by the CEC between September and November 2004 was highly credible, capturing some 71% of the electorate.
9. There was wide misuse of public resources in favour of Mahmoud Abbas, with public officials seen campaigning in his favour. The law is clear that such abuse should not be allowed, but the electoral authorities took no action despite numerous complaints.
10. Despite the noted shortcomings, it is clear that given the context in which it was held this election represents an achievement and an opportunity. Whilst democracy cannot necessarily be consolidated in one or two elections, the practice for Palestinian leaders to seek legitimacy through the ballot box is being entrenched and the spirit in which the Palestinian people registered and participated are strong indicators of a will to follow the path of the rule of law and popular participation.
11. It remains clear that many of the problems facing the election stemmed from the wider political context and the impact of the existing occupation and conflict. For the electoral process the challenge now is to learn from this experience by further strengthening the independence of the CEC, ensuring more rigorous enforcement of the legal provisions and clarifying and developing the legislative framework in time for the proposed Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections later in the year.
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