On Sunday, 9 January 2005, the Palestinian electorate went to polling centers to vote in the first presidential election under the Palestinian National Authority since 1996. This important development came in the context of a series of steps taken by the Palestinian leadership, following the death of President Yasser Arafat, which ensured quiet and peaceful transition of authority.
Despite the negative environment created by the continuous Israeli belligerent occupation and attacks launched by Israeli occupation forces against Palestinian civilians, which impacted on the electoral process over the past weeks, Palestinians insisted on participating in the election; demonstrating a spirit of determination to exercise their electoral right, despite the existence of occupation.
PCHR has always supported initiatives to hold free and fair elections under the PNA. In cooperation with 26 NGOs, PCHR has monitored all stages of the electoral process, including the polling day, through around 300 accredited observers in all polling centers throughout the Gaza Strip, and a limited number of observers in the West Bank, including Jerusalem.
According to preliminary conclusions of monitoring, which amounted to a comprehensive survey of all polling centers in all electoral constituencies in the Gaza Strip, the election took place peacefully and impressively, reflecting high-levels of organization. There were a number of violations, especially by supporters of a number of candidates, but these did not damage the essence of the electoral process. These violations will be highlighted in an evaluation report on the monitoring of polling and counting of votes to be published by PCHR in the next few days.
Nevertheless, a few hours before the official time of close of polls, 19:00, PCHR and its observers were surprised by two measures taken by the Central Election Commission, which were circulated to all electoral constituencies: 1) New instructions to officials of polling centers to allow citizens not registered in the electoral register to vote, using only their identity cards; and 2) Extending the period of polling in all polling centers until 21:00. These two measures violate Law 13 of 1995 Relating to the Elections and its amendments in the following respects:
1. According to article 1 of Law 4 of 2004 Amending Law 13 of 1995, the electoral register prepared in accordance with the law and the civil register are accredited together for the purpose of preparing the final electoral register to decide who qualifies to vote and who can be nominated for the general elections. Article 7, paragraph 1, of Law 13 prescribes that “any person who meets the following requirements shall be qualified to exercise the right to vote: …d. To be entered in the final electoral register.” According to article 72, paragraph 2(a), of the Law, “the President of the Polling Station Commission or the member of the Commission appointed by him or her shall examine the identity of the elector and check whether his or her name is entered in the electoral register.” Thus, using identification only as a criterion, without checking if a voter’s name is entered in the electoral register violates the law.
2. The CEC has the power according to Law 13 of 1995 to extend the period of polling in case of delay of the polling due to the absence of any or all of the Polling Station Commission members for a period of time that is equal to that of the delay (article 68). According to the Guide to Voting and Counting of Votes for the Palestinian Presidential Election of 2005, prepared by the CEC, the period of voting can be extended in cases of disorder and chaos that may disrupt the polling, providing that the period of suspensions are calculated to be the same as those of delays in the commencement of polling. Nevertheless, PCHR will not give this violation more emphasis as all candidates obtained equal opportunities through this extension.
With regard to the use of identification only without checking if a voter’s name is entered in the electoral register, this measure damaged the electoral process in the evening, after 18:00, especially in polling centers designed for citizens who are included in the civil register in the 16 electoral constituencies in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. PCHR observers reported that they noticed chaos and congestion in a number of polling centers designed for electors who are registered in the civil register in the Gaza Strip. PCHR observers also recorded many violations resulting from this measure, as many people who are not qualified to vote were able to vote.
In other polling centers, which worked according to the electoral register prepared by the CEC, no serious violations that could damage the essence of the electoral process were recorded.
Even though the aforementioned measure is illegal, PCHR, aware of the complications of the Palestinian situation under the Israeli occupation and believing in supporting positive public initiatives to hold general and local elections under the PNA, would like to explain the following:
1. Following the declaration of the new measures by the CEC, in the evening, PCHR instructed its observers in polling centers designed for the civil register to make comparisons between the number of voters before and after declaring the new measures.
2. According to preliminary comparisons, the number of voters in polling centers designed for the civil register was limited and did not essentially affect the results of the election declared by the CEC on Monday, 10 January 2005, under which Mahmoud Abbas won the election with a large majority and a considerable gap between him and his nearest rival, Dr. Mustafa al-Barghouthi.
3. This fact is further asserted by the preliminary results declared by the CEC on Monday afternoon, 10 January 2005, according to which Mahmoud Abbas got 483,039 votes, while Dr, Mustafa al-Barghouthi got 153,516 votes. The CEC stated that the number of votes in polling centers designed for the civil register was 70,000; thus, if these votes were deleted, it would not affect Abbas’ victory.
4. Subsequently, the evening polling, that took place according to the new measures, did not damage the results and fairness of the election.
5. PCHR emphasizes that it does not mean to raise doubts concerning the electoral process, rather to stress that the measure taken by the CEC to accept identity cards for voting instead of the electoral register was illegal.
6. Finally, PCHR congratulates the Palestinian people for holding the elections and the triumph of democracy, and hopes that parliamentary elections will be held on 17 July 2005 as decided by a presidential decree issued by the acting president of the PNA, and elections for local councils throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory will be completed.