Preliminary Assessment of Polling and Vote Count Processes from Monitors

A Palestinian woman shows her index finger marked with election ink after voting inside a polling station for the Parliamentary elections in the Rafah Refugee Camp in the southern Gaza Strip January 25, 2006. (MAANnews/Hatem Omar)

On Wednesday, 25 January 2006, Palestinians cast their ballots to elect representatives in the Palestinian Legislative Council. These were the second parliamentary elections in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) since the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) in 1994.

The elections were held as part of the process for peaceful transition of power, initiated after the death of former President Arafat in November 2004. Since then, there have been a series of positive democratic reform steps. On 9 January 2005, the presidential elections were held to select a new President of the PNA. In addition, local council elections were held over 4 stages in the period from December 2004 to December 2005. These elections, which faced some obstacles, were held in 265 local councils. Elections in the remaining Gaza Strip and West Bank local councils were expected to be held before the end of 2005. In 2005, the PNA announced that parliamentary elections would be held on 17 July 2005. However, legal and political problems delayed the elections until 25 January 2006.

The second legislative elections are an important turning point in the Palestinian political system and form part of the democratic transformation process. These elections will renew the mandate of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), whose legal mandate ended in May 1999 in accordance with the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement (Oslo II). According to the agreement, the first parliamentary elections were held in January 1996. However, the PLC continued to function based on Presidential Decrees. In addition, the importance of the elections was also increased by the fact that all Palestinian parties, except Islamic Jihad, participated. Most parties, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, boycotted the first parliamentary elections in 1996 and the presidential elections of 2005.

The elections were held in accordance with Law #9 of 2005, and its amendments, regarding elections. The law increased the number of PLC members from 88 to 132. The elections were a mixed majoritarian (districts) and proportional representation (lists) system, with half the seats determined by each. Sixty-six members are elected from 16 electoral districts, each one receiving a quota based on population, with a minimum of one seat per district. A Presidential Decree reserved 6 seats for Christians: 2 in Jerusalem, 2 in Bethlehem, 1 in Ramallah, and 1 in Gaza. The other 66 members are based on proportional representation that considered the whole OPT as one electoral district. This side of the elections gave positive discrimination for women, with a minimum of 1 female candidate in the top 3, another in the next 4, and 1 in each subsequent 5.

In light of this law, the Central Elections Committee (CEC) prepared two boxes for each polling station: one for the majoritarian ballot and the other for the proportional representation ballot.

The elections witnessed intense competition between the two largest Palestinian parties: Fatah and Hamas. The competition resembled the strong contest in the 4 stages of local council elections. Both parties won the majority of local council seats in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The elections law safeguards holding all stages of the elections in a transparent and public manner. It guarantees the ability of monitors to oversee all stages of the electoral process. In addition, the law allows journalists to cover the elections.

PCHR continued its monitoring role that began with monitoring the presidential and local council elections. In monitoring all stages of the elections, PCHR cooperated with 34 civil society organizations, including the Palestinian Bar Association, the Addameer Association for Human Rights, the Women’s Affairs Center, and Sharek. The Centre recruited a team of 600 monitors, half of whom were female. They monitored 988 polling stations in 254 polling centers throughout the Gaza Strip.

Polling started at 07:00 a.m. in the Gaza Strip. In accordance with the election procedure’s manual, the CEC prepared polling stations. Two ballot boxes were placed in each station. In addition, polling booths were set up to ensure secrecy in the voting process. Palestinian police were deployed in all centers to preserve order. The CEC permitted candidate and party representatives and local monitors to be inside polling stations. They witnessed the opening of the stations and monitored the procedural functioning of station staff. When voters started arriving polling centers, queues were organized by line officers. Each voter was verified as registered in the station before being given access to enter the station. Voters cast their secret ballots behind the booths.

Initial results of the monitoring process were reached through a complete scan of all Polling Centers in the Gaza Strip. The polling process progressed calmly and efficiently, reflecting the excellent preparation and professionalism of the CEC and its staff. Polling was transparent and was conducted in the presence of candidate and party representatives, local and international monitors, and local and international media. Throughout the day, the CEC cooperated completely with monitoring bodies and dealt seriously with all comments presented by monitors.

PCHR registered minor violations by candidate and party supporters. The most notable violation was the continuation of campaigning at the entrances and inside polling centers. In addition, private media outlets continued to broadcast campaign messages for candidates and contesting parties, especially for the largest two parties. Overcrowding and gatherings at the entrances to polling centers led to a few confrontations. However, the extent of the violations does not undermine the overall integrity of the elections.

Polling centers were closed at 19:00 in the evening and without extension, in accordance with the law. Polling station staff locked the boxes with special locks. They counted the unused ballots and registered the number in the minutes of the vote count. The box closure minutes were prepared and signed by the station officer, staff, party and candidate representatives, and monitors.

The turnout for the elections was very high and reflected the will of the people to engage in active political participation. CEC data indicate that voter turnout was 77.69% of the 1.3 million registered voters in all centers, except the Jerusalem post office centers. Turnout in the West Bank was 74.18% with 585,003 voters; and 81.65% in the Gaza Strip with 396,079 voters. The total number of voters was 981,082.

The vote count process started immediately after completing the procedures of closing the polling stations and centers at 19:00. The count included the ballots cast on election day and those cast by security personnel in the early voting. CEC staff confirmed that there were no unauthorized people in the stations. According to the law, the people allowed to be present during the vote count are the station staff, CEC staff, monitors, candidate and party representatives, and journalists.

After the votes were counted, the proportional representation box minutes were prepared and signed by the station staff and by those wishing to sign from the monitors and representatives. The station officer took a carbon copy of the minutes and placed it at the entrance of the station. After that, all documents were placed inside the ballot box.

The vote count continued in some centers until the early hours of Thursday, 26 January 2006. The vote count continues in other centers. The ballot boxes were sent to the CEC district offices for a recount. Then they will be taken to the CEC headquarters in Ramallah. Preliminary election results are expected in a few hours.

PCHR expresses relief that all polling and vote count processes went ahead as planned and confirms the validity of these processes. These elections represent the will of Palestinian voters. In this regard, the Centre commends all parties, including the representatives of candidates and parties and the Palestinian police, for preserving order during the day.

PCHR congratulates the Palestinian people for this excellent achievement. In addition, the Centre congratulates the CEC, represented by all its staff, for the great effort made to ensure the elections were a success, characterized by very high transparency and organization. The Centre commends the important role of Palestinian policemen, who protected the electoral process as a whole.

PCHR is hopeful that there will be a quiet and peaceful transition of power after the elections, in order to establish the will the Palestinian people, and to establish the principle of the peaceful transition of power. The Centre looks forward to more democratic reform steps, including the completion of the 5th and final round of local council elections as soon as possible, including reaching a mechanism to hold a rerun of the local council elections in Rafah, El-Bureij, and Beit Lahya under the new elections law.

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