PCHR has submitted a letter to the Speaker and members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), calling for amendments to the Electoral Law of Local Councils (5) of 1996. In this letter, PCHR expressed its appreciation for the efforts made by the PLC in the past years to promote local government, including the approval of the Electoral Law of Local Councils (5) of 1996 and the Law of Local Councils (1) of 1996, and the efforts made to hold local elections. However, PCHR pointed out that these efforts have not been completed, as councils appointed by the executive have continued to manage local councils in the Palestinian communities since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority 10 years ago.
PCHR is fully aware of the current situation, especially with regard to the continuous aggression against the Palestinian people, however, PCHR emphasized the necessity to make additional efforts to hold elections for local councils, which is strongly supported by the Palestinian people and various political segments.
PCHR hoped that latest decisions taken by the Palestinian Cabinet with regard to elections of local councils would be implemented, especially the 10 May 2004 decision to hold the elections in stages next August, beginning in Jericho.
PCHR would like to seize this opportunity to comment on some articles of the Electoral Law of Local Councils (5) of 1996, hoping that they will be taken into consideration by the PLC while discussing proposed amendments to the law. The comments are annexed to this press release.
Comments on Some Articles of the Electoral Law of Local Councils (5) of 1996
1 - High Election Committee
Article 3 of the law defines the High Election Committee as “the committee of Palestinian local councils elections formed in accordance with a presidential decree.” It is clear that the Palestinian President has an absolute authority to nominate members of the committee and decide their number. In fact, on 24 May 2004, the Palestinian President issued a decree nominating the head and members of the committee. The law does not provide for specific standards for choosing members of the committee in a way that makes them independent and neutral. There are more transparent methods to choose members of the committee, without any intervention by the executive, to ensure its impartiality and independence. Some democratic systems of the world form such a committee in a way that ensures fair representation of certain segments of the society, such as political parties and civil society organizations.
PCHR questions the feasibility of the existence of two separate committees for general elections (legislative and presidential) and local councils elections, and the reasons behind multiple supervision of elections. Paragraph 1 of article 22 of the Palestinian Election Law of 7 December 1995 provides for the establishment of a central election committee to manage and supervise elections. Thus, PCHR calls for uniting the two committees into one to ensure that only one professional body will supervise the elections to save time and efforts. This committee should have a constitutional nature as in other democratic states in the world. For instance, the constitution of South Africa, one of the most modern and democratic constitutions that complies with international standards, provides for the establishment of an electoral body in accordance with a law.
2 - Committees of Election Bureaus and Vote Centers
Article 5 of the Electoral Law of Local Councils (5) of 1996 provides that each local council consists of one election bureau and that each bureau has an election committee as clarified in article 6. However, there is a technical problem with regard to other committees, such as the committees of registration, voting and counting of votes, whose establishment falls under the authority of the High Election Committee according to article 2. It is not clear whether such committees will be established or the election committee of each bureau will carry out all these jobs. Article 37 provides that the election committee will supervise voting, but shall carry out this job in only one center; “a head of an election shall open the voting boxes for the positions of the president and members in front of members of the committee and representatives of candidates to make sure that they are empty, then shall close it.” It is clear that this committee cannot supervise more than one voting center, without clarifying the situation in other centers and who will supervise them. If it means that the election of each local council will be through only one voting center, there will be a big problem when people go to vote especially in densely populated areas.
3 - Definition of Palestinian Voters
Article 1 defines a resident as “a Palestinian citizen who lives in the territory of a local council and has a permanent residence and a job there.” Paragraph 1 of article 9 gives the right to vote to each Palestinian who is over 18. The definition of a Palestinian is not clear; is the Palestinian the one who has a Palestinian identity card, and thus the Palestinian who lives in the Palestinian Territories and does not have an identity card will be deprived of the right to vote? The definition of a Palestinian voter should be clarified and there should be standards according to which voters will be accepted in order to ensure the all Palestinians living in the Palestinian Territories enjoy their right to vote.
PCHR believes that the participation of refugees in the elections is one of the most important issues related to elections, as a number of refugee camps are located outside the territory of local councils. It is unknown whether refugees in these camps will be able to participate in the elections. PCHR believes that it is necessary that refugees must enjoy the right to participate in elections, both as candidates and voters, as they did in the presidential and legislative elections of 1996.
4 - Women’s Quota
In light of women’s weak political participation and representation in local councils, PCHR calls for ensuring representation of women in local councils (a quota) in the context of the principle of positive discrimination. Under this rule, a number of posts would be devoted to Palestinian women. This method can be adopted temporarily until actual equality is achieved, since legal and constitutional equality cannot ensure that women will be actually equal to men, as provided for in Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which entered into force in 1981, whose article 4, paragraph 1 provides that “adoption by States Parties of temporary special measures aimed at accelerating de facto equality between men and women shall not be considered discrimination as defined in the present Convention, but shall in no way entail as a consequence the maintenance of unequal or separate standards; these measures shall be discontinued when the objectives of equality of opportunity and treatment have been achieved.”