Political Realities Shape the
The Declaration of
Principles or Oslo Agreement, reached in late 1993 between Israel and the
Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), contained a provision for an elected
Palestinian Council to be established. The implementation of the Oslo Agreement
required the negotiation of a further detailed agreement, the Interim Agreement.
This was completed in Taba in September 1995 and included detailed provisions
for holding elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council and, separately,
for the head of its Executive Authority. The president (Raees) of the
Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Legislative Council were then elected
on 20 January 1996.
Preparations for the
elections began in 1994 in parallel with the negotiations for the Interim
Agreement. The election law and the conduct of the elections were entirely the
responsibility of the Palestinians, although some details of the election
arrangements were required to be consistent with the provisions of the Interim
Agreement. The final version of the law and the major regulations were put in
place only in late 1995.
The political context of
the election strongly influenced the available options for the electoral system.
There was little doubt in anyone’s mind that Yasser Arafat would be elected
president, and for the presidential election a single-round FPTP system was
adopted with little discussion. The assumption was borne out in practice when
Arafat received over 80 per cent of the vote against one other candidate.
The choice of system for
the Legislative Council elections was much less straightforward. First,
agreement within the Palestinian community on accepting and participating in the
Interim Agreement process was not unanimous. The emerging Palestinian Authority
conducted lengthy discussions backstage with members of Hamas and other Islamic
movements which included the question of their participation in elections.
Second, the political party system was embryonic. Fatah had the character of a
national liberation movement, a political form for which a continuing need was
perceived because of the need for unity in moving into ‘final status’
negotiations with Israel (which were not successful). Some other small parties
had formed, but many potential candidates were considering standing
independently of Fatah. Third, there were some precedents to hand: local
elections had been held in Gaza in the 1940s, using Egyptian procedures, and in
West Bank cities and towns in the 1970s, using Jordanian procedures inherited
from traditions under the British Mandate. There was pressure in particular to
follow Jordanian practice.
The choice of a
candidate-based electoral system therefore emerged in response to three
pressures: the wish to provide a channel for informal candidacies of persons
linked to movements which formally rejected the process; the desire of a number
of prominent figures to stand as independents; and the recollection of historic
elections. The importance placed on simplicity, transparency, speed of counting
and confidence in the results also led to a decision in favour of counting at
the polling station, thus eliminating preferential systems such as the
Alternative Vote (AV) or the Single Transferable Vote (STV) as options. The
perception of where natural boundaries existed on the ground thus led to the
choice of the Block Vote (BV), with districts which varied in magnitude from 12
in Gaza City down to one in the small towns of Jericho, Salfit and Tubas.
A further discussion
centred on the representation of minorities, in particular the Christian
community (which accounted for some 10 per cent of the electorate) and the
Samaritans (a concentrated community of a few hundred people near Nablus). Six
reserved seats were created within the Block Vote system for Christians in the
four districts with the highest concentration of Christians (two each in
Bethlehem and Jerusalem, and one each in Ramallah and Gaza City) and one
reserved seat was created for Samaritans in Nablus. Christian candidates had the
option to declare themselves as Christian. If the Block Vote count showed that
there were not sufficient declared Christian candidates among those in the top
positions, the candidate with the lowest vote of those who would otherwise have
been elected would be replaced by the declared Christian candidate with the
next—highest vote—as indeed happened in all four districts. This meant that
there were representatives on the Legislative Council elected with fewer votes
than some other candidates who were not elected. While there was some debate on
this, it was accepted as legitimate in the context of wide representation and in
the aftermath of a successful election.
In practice, the BV
electoral system achieved much of what was expected of it. Eighty-seven
candidates were nominated in Gaza City, but voters coped well with a ballot
paper about a metre long. While few candidates associated with those who
rejected the peace process stood, at least one member was elected who might be
considered as a bridge to those movements. Candidates on Fatah slates gained an
advantage, but voters made clear distinctions between more and less popular
individuals. Leading independent figures were elected, as were representatives
from minorities. Small towns with a fiercely independent identity gained their
own representative. The president and the Legislative Council took office in
1996 with a wide degree of legitimacy within the Palestinian community.
March 14, 2006 07:54