16 01. 2021
Palestine’s Aspirations for Democracy Renewed: Palestinian President Issues Decree Calling for General Elections
Ref: 7/2021 Date: 16 January 2021 Time: 09:00 GMT On Friday, 15 January 2021, the Palestinian President decreed general elections in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, overdue since 2010. This move came after the President had received a letter from Ismail Haniyeh, Chief of Hamas Political Bureau, on 31 December 2020, expressing his movement’s agreement to general elections as a means to end the 13-year political division. Palestinian political factions are expected to meet in Cairo later this month to decide on procedural details. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights welcomes the issuance of this long-awaited decree in support of the Palestinian people’s right to elect their representatives through periodic, free and fair elections. PCHR stresses the importance of fostering a conducive environment for elections to ensure it is a true reflection of the will of the people. Additionally, PCHR asserts that agreement on peaceful transition of power is imperative for the insurance of the Palestinian people’s peace and prosperity after the hardships they were put through since the 2006 parliamentary elections and the subsequent political division. PCHR calls upon the international community to pressure Israeli authorities to refrain from obstructing the elections or the work of the Central Elections Commission’s crews; and ensure Jerusalemites’ right to stand as candidates and to vote, as well as, candidates’ freedom of movement and that they are not threatened into quitting the race, as has happened before. As per the decree, parliamentary and presidential elections will be held respectively, the first on 22 May 2021 and the latter on 31 July 2021. It was also decreed that elections for the National Council of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the legislative body of the PLO, would be held on August 31 in accordance with the provisions of the PLO Basic Law. Lawyer Raji Sourani, PCHR's Director, commented on this development, saying: "the Presidential decree to hold elections, although long-awaited, revives the hope of ending the obnoxious political division, restoring democracy and hearing to the voice of people. It is an opportunity to renew the Palestinian political legitimacy. There is a clear political will among all Palestinian political factions to move ahead with the elections. We call upon all parties to enhance and establish mutual confidence in order to overcome the current challenges, particularly ending the closure on the Gaza Strip and ensuring freedoms of movement and expression." It should be noted that Fatah and Hamas agreed that the elections will be held under Elections Law no.1/2007, that was issued in a presidential decree following the division, rather than the Elections Law no.9/2005. The 2007 Law is better than the previous in terms of holding elections according to complete proportional representation system (list system) as the previous law was based on the mixed electoral system evenly (50%-50%) between the relative majority (multiple constituencies) and proportional representation (list system). Canceling the constituencies system will increase women's representation in the PLC as their quota was only within the lists that constituted 50% of the PLC members. According to the new law, the quota will be applied as percentage to all PLC members after adopting the complete proportional representation system, thereby increasing the percentage of women’s representation. The 2007 Elections Law also stipulates in Article 20 that an “Election Cases Court shall be composed by virtue of a presidential decree of a President and eight judges, upon the recommendation of the Supreme Judicial Council.” Also, as per Article 21 of the 2007 Law, “the court shall be duly convened of at least three judges, and at least five judges in the crucial cases according to what the Court’s President decides.” It is not clear yet if a court will be formed in the Gaza Strip or if appeals will be considered by the court in the West Bank, which may be challenging particularly due to the Israeli-imposed restrictions on movement. Therefore, PCHR suggests that factions ought to agree on all details before starting the electoral process. On 11 January 2021, the Palestinian President issued law by decree no. (1/2021) to amend the law by decree no. (1/2007) concerning the general elections. The decree included some amendments, the most prominent of which was giving the Palestinian president the right to hold the legislative and presidential elections sequentially if they cannot be held simultaneously. The decree also increased the quota for women, making it an obligation on the lists to include a woman among the first three names, and a woman every four names thereafter, as opposed to the original law which required having a woman nominated among the four names following the first three, and then every five names thereafter. The decree also included an amendment to Article 45 of the original law to override the candidate's obligation to consider the Palestine Liberation Organization as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. It should be noted that the Palestinian President preceded the decree on elections by issuing three laws by decree related to the judiciary on 31 December 2020, under the pretext of reforming the judicial authority. The decisions were rejected by civil society, human rights organizations and political factions for their infringement on the independence of the judiciary. PCHR issued a press release expressing its principled rejection of issuing these laws, especially the law by decree that introduced amendments to the Judicial Authority Law. PCHR called upon the Palestinian president to cancel those decisions and leave the issue of reforming the judiciary to the legitimate authorities who will win the upcoming elections., stressing that the judiciary’s main problem is the overreach of the executive authority. As this Presidential decree inspires hope that general elections will be held, PCHR calls on the authorities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to commit to safeguarding public freedoms and fostering an encouraging environment that guarantees all parties equal political participation and campaigning rights, which are fundamental principles for free and fair elections. PCHR emphasizes that the international community is required to pressure Israeli authorities to ensure that the elections are held in the West Bank, including Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip and that Jerusalemites’ right to stand as candidates and to vote is guaranteed. The international community should also pressure Israel to allow the CEC to move freely through West Bank checkpoints and to and from the Gaza Strip. PCHR calls upon the Palestinian political factions to reach agreement on all procedural and logistical details relevant to holding the elections in a democratic and stable environment, and to agree on how to address electoral appeals. PCHR stresses the importance of having the Palestinian factions agree on a detailed roadmap that clarifies the procedures and execution of a peaceful transition of power, with lessons to be learned from the 2006 elections. Finally, PCHR calls upon the Palestinian President to revoke the three laws by decree related to the judicial authority, as a gesture of goodwill to maintain a positive electoral environment that nurtures trust between all stakeholders and reinforces trust in the Palestinian judiciary.