PCHR publishes report on Palestinian voter registration

Palestinian presidential election posters in Ramallah. (Maureen Clare Murphy)

On 28 December 2004, PCHR published a report evaluating the pre-election stage, including conclusions of the monitoring conducted by PCHR on the registration of voters in the last quarter of 2004.

PCHR has sent two copies of the report to Dr, Hanna Nasser, Head of the Central Election Commission (CEC), and Dr. Rami Hamdallah, Secretary General of CEC. This report consists of six sections. The first section explains the importance of elections, the right to vote and to run as a candidate as well as the electoral register and its preparation. The second section highlights the experience of the Palestinian general elections of January 1996, the first and only elections under the PNA since its establishment in 1994. The third section traces the developments related to holding general elections, starting with the end of the interim period according to the Oslo Accords on 4 May 1999, which marked the end the of legal term of the 1996 elections, then the deadlock of the political process and not holding elections, and finally the latest developments and assigning a date for holding presidential election and the preparations made to hold this election. The fourth section of the report details PCHR’s activities as an accredited local monitoring organization, including accrediting its monitors by the CEC, the training and distribution of monitors and the method adopted to gather and analyze the information. The fifth section of the report focuses on the registration process from its beginning on 4 September 2004 until its end on 13 October 2004, and the publication of the initial electoral register and the complementary one. The final section evaluates the registration process. In addition to the technical analysis, which is an essential part of the monitoring process, a significant part of this section was devoted to evaluate the political and field environment under which the registration process was conducted, both with regard to the impacts of assaults by Israeli occupation forces (IOF) against Palestinian civilians, and the Palestinian internal situation.

In the conclusion of the report, PCHR has made the following recommendations:

1. The CEC made great efforts to register the voters and prepare an accurate electoral register as a basis for holding free and impartial elections. The CEC’s performance was characterized by transparency and good management, planning and readiness to cope with hindrances and find immediate solutions for the problems that arose, in accordance with the law and the CEC’s regulations.

2. By the end of the extended period, the percentage of registered voters mounted to 71%, while it was 61.37% at the end of the original period of registration, 4 September to 13 October 2004, including occupied East Jerusalem. With the exclusion of Jerusalem, the percentage of registered voters would be 67%. Although the number of registered citizens who have the right to vote is not clear after deleting names of those who will not reach the age of 18 on the day of the ballot, the percentage of registered voters is low, especially if we take into consideration the steps taken by the CEC to urge people to register and raise their awareness on the importance of this process and political participation.

3. The main problem is related to the method pursued for voter registration, which depended on self-registration of voters, that is, they had to go to registration centers to register their names. This method is followed in many countries, but its success requires two things, among others: 1) the existence of an appropriate and encouraging political environment; and 2) a clear timetable for the election process, including the date of polling. In countries that witness democratic reform, the state intervenes at this stage and the registration process is not solely centered on self-initiative.

4. In the Palestinian case, it is necessary to rely on the direct and effective interest of the state in the process of registration, especially under the current situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). Although the method adopted by the CEC to prepare the electoral register is followed in a number of countries in the world, the CEC should have followed another mechanism which could ensure the inclusion of names of all citizens in the electoral register.

5. PCHR closely monitored subsequent legislative developments, particularly the amendment made to article 15 of Law 13 of 1995 Relating to Elections, which is concerned with the electoral register. According to the amendment, the civil register will be accredited together with the electoral register prepared by the CEC. In the Palestinian case, PCHR believes that there if the motivation of this change is simply to increase the number of voters then it is to be welcomed. However the process which has been used will require further monitoring to ensure that improprieties do not result from the amendment to the law.

6. PCHR appreciates the legitimate concerns regarding the accreditation of the civil register. PCHR has focused on the mechanism followed by the CEC to implement this amendment. According to PCHR’s information and observations regarding the steps that have been taken, PCHR believes that these steps have been positive. PCHR hopes that the goals of this amendment have been achieved so that all those who have the right to vote can exercise this right to ensure the impartiality of the election process.

7. PCHR calls on the CEC to publish the lists of those who registered in the extended period of registration and the final electoral register according to Law 13 which asserts that it is necessary to publish the final electoral register; article 20 of the law considers the electoral register “a public document which shall be open for public inspection.” The publication of the final electoral register is the fruit of efforts made by the CEC in the registration process which was carried out over several months, during which the CEC made efforts to urge citizens to register in order to ensure their right to participate in the elections.

8. PCHR calls for immediately establishing district election commissions, which did not exist during the registration period. Although district election commissions are entitled according to article 13 of Law 13 of 1995 to supervise the preparation and formation of the initial and final electoral register, PCHR believes that the non-existence of these commissions did not negatively impact on the registration of voters, since the law prescribes that rejections are to be directly submitted from the ballot committee to the CEC.

For more information about the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, see pchrgaza.org. The report is available in Arabic, and will be available in English the coming few days.