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Published @ 14.00 GMT on 27 January 1996

ELECTION UPDATE NO.4

The fourth report of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights

on the Palestinian elections

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights has as one of its basic aims the promotion of democratic civil society in the areas under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority. As part of this work the Palestinian Centre has been involved in monitoring the electoral process, from the issuing of a draft election law to the counting of votes. Throughout this period we have prepared three election bulletins and made numerous interventions to the bodies responsible for the administration of the election. On the day a round-the-clock Election Monitoring Unit was established and 30 officially-accredited workers were based in the field to monitor the process of voting on election day. These staff were supported by 50 Palestinian Centre unofficial observers. The mandate of the Election Monitoring Unit of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights was to support the development of an electoral process in the Gaza Strip, which accord to international human rights standards. This paper sets out our observations of the election day, 20 January 1996.

The elections, in our view, were genuine and represented the exercise of the will of the electorate. Generally speaking the administration was carried out in a professional and dedicated manner by the Palestinian election staff at each stage of the elections. The Palestinian general elections for the Council and President, the first of their kind, had a very high percentage of participation in the Palestinian elections from voters and from candidates and other people actively involved in the political process.

In this report the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights has identified numerous problems which arose during election day. However these did not appear to be a deliberate and officially-sanctioned attempt to influence the results of the elections. In fact a number of the problems which arose were indicative of the limited experience Palestinians have had of elections. But this limited experience did not seem to affect the outcome of the elections.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights' election observers were deeply impressed by the conduct of the Palestinian people and their appreciation of their role in the democratic process of elections. It is hoped that these elections will be followed by future genuine and periodic elections, where the experience gained will ensure that many of the problems which have occurred in 1996 are not repeated.

This report concludes our series of bulletins on the Palestinian elections. It focuses on the preparedness of the Polling Stations, the opening and closing of voting, the casting and counting of votes and the declaration of the results. This report in English was prepared on the basis of the original Arabic version.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights' Election Monitoring Unit

The Election Monitoring Programme of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights has been supported by the NGO network and its volunteers in the Gaza Strip. The aim was to monitor the elections from inception to completion in order to determine how free, fair and genuine these elections were in relation to international human rights standards.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights had 30 volunteers accredited with local monitoring status by the Central Elections Commission (CEC). This accreditation came after much negotiation and lobbying of the CEC. Some 50 other volunteers were recruited from amongst Palestinian NGOs based in the Gaza Strip, to support the work of the accredited workers. The staff and volunteers worked tirelessly and with professionalism. Their sterling efforts were invaluable to ensure that the Palestinian elections were monitored locally.

The Election Monitoring Team was based in the field across all five of the constituencies in the Gaza Strip and throughout the Polling Stations. They were in direct and regular contact with the Election Monitoring Unit based at the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights' offices in Gaza City.

The Palestinian Centre trained its staff and volunteers to ensure that their election activities were carried out within appropriate guidelines, and that they documented accurately and objectively, without interference to the electorate or the election process. Their observations are set out in this report.

ELECTION CAMPAIGN BREACHES OF THE ELECTION LAW

Articles 54 and 55 of the Election Law provide that election campaigning must end 24 hours before voting begins. The Palestinian Centre's Observation Team encountered a number of incidents where campaigning for candidates contravened these provisions.

OBSERVATIONS:

DELAYS DUE TO INSUFFICIENT VOTING MATERIALS

There were 498 Polling Stations in the Gaza Strip which covered the five constituencies under Palestinian jurisdiction. The Election Law required each District Election Commission (the body responsible for administering the elections in each constituency) to provide ballot papers and envelopes ("voting materials") to each Polling Station Commission (responsible for administration within a Polling Station) 24 hours before voting was to begin. The Law required that there should be at least 25% more voting materials than the number of registered voters (Article 62).

The District Commissions began distributing closed boxes to ballot stations in the afternoon of Thursday 18 January in the presence of members of the Polling Station Commissions. This was completed in the early hours of Friday 19 January. UNRWA trucks and staff were utilised for this task, and in some cases international observers witnessed the transport of the boxes. Members of the Polling Station Commissions were informed that the boxes contained ballot papers, envelopes, pens, stamps and white paper. All these materials were kept in closed rooms in each Polling Station and under police guard.

On the evening of 18 January members of the Polling Station Commissions were asked to go to their respective Polling Stations, to receive the two ballot boxes allocated for each Station. One to be used for the votes cast for President, and the other for the Council representatives.

OBSERVATIONS:

LACK OF PREPAREDNESS OF POLLING STATIONS ON ELECTION DAY

Each Polling Station had to have a number of voting booths to ensure secrecy of voting. The CEC was responsible for allocating voting booths as well as all other characteristics of the polling stations, including the provision of four copies of the Electoral Register (one of which must be displayed in a visible place, in the Polling Station, and the others to be used by members of the Polling Station Commission).

OBSERVATIONS:

SHORTCOMINGS IN THE HANDLING OF SOME BALLOT BOXES

Before the polls were opened the Election Law required the President of the Polling Station Commission to open the ballot boxes in front of the members of the Commission and the candidates' agents present, in order to make sure that they were empty. The ballot boxes were then to be closed and sealed with red wax. The boxes were not to be opened again until the commencement of the count.

OBSERVATIONS:

SHORTCOMINGS IN THE VOTING PROCESS

According to the Election Law voting was to begin at 7.00am on election day and was to end at 7.00pm on that day. The Polling Station Commissions checked voters' names on the Register and then people voted in secret in the voting booths. Each voter was to deposit one envelope containing their vote for the president and one for the council, in the presence of members of the Polling Station Commissions, candidates agents and observers.

OBSERVATIONS:

VOTING FOR ILLITERATE AND DISABLED VOTERS

Illiterate and disabled voters were permitted to vote with the assistance of another voter whom they knew, and with the consent of the Polling Station Commission members.

OBSERVATIONS:

In instances where this abuse occurred the principles of equal, free and fair voting were undermined in relation to these voters.

IMPROPRIETY IN SECURITY ARRANGEMENTS AT POLLING STATIONS

According to the Law, the President of the Polling Station Commission is responsible for maintaining order and security within the Polling Station. A number of security personnel or policemen must be on hand in their official capacity.

Security personnel are not allowed to enter any of the Polling Stations unless requested by the President of the Polling Station Commission, and only then for a limited period of time to keep security and order (Article 75).

OBSERVATIONS:

These episodes of impropriety by security forces personnel are serious, and undermine the principles of free, fair and equal voting in the Polling Stations where they occurred.

 

UNHINDERED ACCESS FOR INTERNATIONAL AND LOCAL MONITORS AND THE MEDIA

The Election Law guarantees monitoring of the whole election process by international, local monitors and the media. The Law obliges the administrative bodies who are organising the elections to provide facilities necessary for such monitoring (Article 103).

All accredited monitors representing the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, international monitors and the media had free and easy access to all Polling Stations, and were given all possible assistance by those who supervised the election process. International and local monitors and the media were treated similarly and faced no obstacles in carrying out their work on the day, either from the CEC or security forces personnel. However there was a noticeable and worrying absence of local and international monitors in Polling Stations for periods of time throughout the day.

VOTE-COUNTING

The Election Law states in Article 77 that vote-counting must be conducted in the presence of all members of the Polling Station Commission, and any candidates and/or their agents, international and domestic observers and journalists who want to be present. The Commission for each Polling Station opened the ballot boxes, and separated the papers where a voting card had been placed in the wrong box. Vote-counting was witnessed in most but not all Polling Stations by candidates' representatives, and local and international observers who checked that the number of envelopes matched the number of actual voters (Article 78).

OBSERVATIONS:

CONCLUSION

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights is concerned about the problems which arose on election day and in the counting of votes. These problems were generally of an administrative nature and it appears that these were not intended to frustrate the genuine nature of the elections or to hinder the expression of the will of the electorate. Clearly, the nature of elections permits widespread abuse, occasionally this is very difficult to identify. However, the first Palestinian general elections, particularly bearing in mind the numerous obstacles which existed from the beginning, has widely been regarded as a success.

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