On 1 December 2004, President of the Palestinian Authority Rawhi Fattouh ratified amendments made to the process of preparing the final record of voters. According to the amendments, article 15(1) of the law prescribes that “the record of voters being prepared in accordance with the law and the record of civil registration are the accredited records for the purpose of preparing the final electoral record to decide who has the right of voting and candidature to the Palestinian general elections and the elections of local councils..” This step has been strongly criticized by a number of civil society organizations and active political parties.
The registration of Palestinian voters started on Saturday, 4 September 2004, according to presidential decree 9 issued on 21 June 2004, which prescribed that “preparation of the record of voters and registration shall start on Saturday, 4 September 2004.” According to regulation (no number) of 2004 concerning registration for presidential and legislative elections, the registration is conducted in voting centers in the 16 electoral bureaus in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The registration was conducted between 4 September and 7 October 2004, and the period was extended to 13 October 2004 due to the low number of citizens wishing to register. In general, the process of registration was slow and the number of citizens wishing to register was relatively low; this can be attributed to two main factors: the Palestinian internal security situation and the public feeling that the PNA was not serious in holding elections, especially as the aforementioned presidential decree did not specify a date for holding elections; and the continuous Israeli military attacks on Palestinian civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), including the closure of a number of registration centers in Jerusalem, incursions into Palestinian areas and extra-judicial killings.
Subsequently, the registration process was not done on due time, even during the extended period, so the Palestinian Central Election Commission (CEC) took a series of measures that made registration continue in various electoral bureaus and at Rafah Terminal on the Egyptian border and al-Karama Terminal on the Jordanian border. The registration was also extended in the northern Gaza Strip to 25 October 2004 due to an Israeli military offensive on the area that ended on 16 October 2004.
As a local monitoring organization accredited by CEC, PCHR participated in monitoring the registration process. It was preparing to issue a report evaluating the process when other stages of registration would be completed, including the publication of a preliminary record of voters to be open for rejection as a prelude for publishing the final record. However, these procedures were delayed and the record of civil registration has been accredited in addition to the record of voters for elections, so PCHR has been forced to postpone the publication of its report until the publication of the final record of voters.
In light of the development in the OPT following the death of the Palestinian President Yasser Arafat on 11 November 2004 and assigning 9 January 2005 as a date of holding presidential election, the registration process gained momentum as registration was reopened on 24 November 2004. Registration was closed and the percentage of registered voters increased to 72% of those who have the right to vote, but the final record of voters has not been so far published. As the law may be amended, the record of voters is expected to be amended.
With the new amendments made to the law, PCHR will monitor the mechanisms which CEC will follow to ensure the completion of the record of voters through depending on the record of civil registration without affecting the impartiality of the record. PCHR is concerned that mistakes may be found in depending on the record of civil registration that was prepared in 1995 for the purpose of 1996 elections, especially as approximately 100000 people registered in the record died, many others changed their places of residence, approximately 200000 are abroad now and voters in Jerusalem are not included in the record since they have Israeli identity cards.