PCHR is watching, with concern, the developments that have followed the second phase of elections of Palestinian local councils which were held two weeks ago, especially in Rafah, which were concluded by a court ruling that was issued shortly after midnight to repeat elections in a number of polling stations in the town.
Since Sunday morning, 15 May 2005, Khan Yunis Preliminary Proceedings Court were considering an appeal submitted by candidates of the ‘Sincerity to al-Aqsa’ List of the Fatah movement in Rafah against results of the elections of the municipality of the town, held on 5 May 2005. The appeal was submitted following the declaration of official results of the elections by the Higher Committee for Local Elections on 9 May 2005. According to these results, the candidates of the ‘Reform and Change’ List of Hamas won 12 seats out of 15 of the local council of Rafah.
Through close monitoring over the sessions of the Court in the past three days, PCHR is astonished by testimonies articulated by a number of officials of the executive offices of the Higher Committee for Local Elections (HCLE), in a way that contradicted the results declared by the Committee, and supported demands to cancel the results and repeat the elections.
During its sessions, the Court heard evidence provided by lawyers representing the claimants, and those provided by lawyers for the local election office in Rafah, represented by its president Muna Qishta, and the HCLE. The Court also heard testimonies by eyewitnesses and officials of the executive office of the HCLE.
The claimants’ appeal was based on a preliminary report prepared by Mr Bashar al-Dik, an official of the executive office of the Higher Committee for Local Elections, who prepared the report in response to a demand by a technical committee that was formed by the HCLE on 7 May 2005, following claims about unfairness in the electoral process in Rafah.
According to this preliminary report, violations were discovered in a number of polling stations in Rafah at the time when the protocols and documents of the electoral process in the town were being checked and revised.
Accordingly, the technical committee decided to open the ballot boxes mentioned in the report to check their contents. The technical committee then prepared a report, which was signed by all of its members, including Mr. Bashar al-Dik. This second report stated that there was no failure in the electoral process or that the failure did not in any way impact on the results of election.
The committee recommended the election results should be declared in Rafah, alongside with the declaration of results for other local councils in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Higher Committee for Local Elections (HCLE) declared the results on 9 May 2005.
In his testimony before the Court, Mr. Bashar al-Dik talked again about the violations that he mentioned in his preliminary report. The extent, impact and validity of these violations were denied in the subsequent report by the HCLE technical committee. Mr. Bashar al- Dik was a member of that technical committee and signed the report produced by it.
Other officials of the Higher Committee for Local Elections testified to the Court about electoral violations in Rafah in a way that supported canceling the results of the elections. PCHR questions the contradiction between the results declared by the HCLE and the testimonies of officials from its executive offices. These officials should have intervened to stop violations while those violations were being committed or should have taken them into consideration before declaring the results.
PCHR participated in monitoring the second phase of local elections in the Gaza Strip through 110 observers, including 51 ones in Rafah. In its preliminary evaluation issued on 8 May 2005, PCHR pointed out that the electoral process took place transparently in all areas that witnessed elections in the Gaza Strip, including Rafah.
According to reports made by PCHR observers, the nature of violations documented in polling centers in Rafah were not different from those documented in other electoral constituencies. The violations witnessed by our team of monitors did not damage the essence of elections and their results.