PCHR Organizes Workshop Titled: “Electoral Campaign during the State of Emergency”
Date: 18 April 2021
On Sunday, 18 April 2021, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) organized an online workshop, via Zoom, titled: “Electoral Campaign during the State of Emergency”, with the participation of relevant decision-makers, representatives of electoral lists, political factions, lawyers, and representatives of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs.)
The workshop aimed to meet the requirements for launching the electoral campaign within a freedom-prevailing atmosphere, particularly during the state of emergency and the restrictions on movement imposed to curb the spread of the Coronavirus. The workshop highlighted the obligations of the Ministry of Interior to enable various lists to launch their electoral campaigns equally and freely while taking all the health measures required to curb the spread of the Coronavirus.
Hamdi Shaqqura, PCHR’s Deputy Director for Program Affairs, opened the workshop and stressed that the workshop aimed to highlight the atmosphere of the electoral campaign in light of the declared state of emergency and its requirements, such as restrictions on movement and banning and limiting peaceful assemblies, to recommend new activities during the election campaigning period.
Mr. Jamil al-Khaldi, Regional Office Director of the Central Elections Commission (CEC) in the Gaza Strip, tackled the election campaign’s cautions according to the law, highlighting the CEC’s agreement with the municipalities to organize the electoral campaigns in a way that guarantees a clean environment away from the private places. Al-Khaldi added that the electoral campaigning must be free of incitement, defamation and insult, and no more than one million dollar should be spent on it or being funded by foreign bodies. Also, he emphasized that criminal sanctions will imposed on those violating provisions of the electoral campaign, including imprisonment for 6 months and fine that may reach 6,000 USD, or both penalties. Al-Khaldi added that a health protocol to curb the coronavirus will be adopted, where restrictions will be imposed on peaceful assemblies, including festivals that will be replaced by social media. He also stressed that the CEC believes in citizens’ awareness and the Health Ministry’s efforts to organize the election campaigns safely without being exposed to Coronavirus.
Fayeq al-Mabhouh, representative of the Ministry of Interior in Gaza, said that the Ministry created an atmosphere that guarantees equal participation during the electoral campaigning period, and a whole plan was prepared where the health aspect was taken in consideration in light of the coronavirus. He added that the Ministry of Interior in coordination with the Central Election Committee facilitated the movement of its members and staff during the curfew. Al-Mabhouh added that a new Coronavirus health protocol, which will be placed jointly by the Ministry of Health and CEC, will be implemented by the Ministry of Interior during the electoral campaign, due to the increase in the number of coronavirus cases; 305 cases are in critical condition while the number of infections and deaths increases as well. Also, he emphasized that the Ministry of Interior will stay impartial during the electoral campaigning period, guarantee equal rights, and prevent any armed manifestations that would affect the voters. Additionally, the Ministry will overcome all obstacles and has a comprehensive plan to secure the CEC’s headquarter and the electoral campaign as well.
Mr. Hamdi Shaqoura stated that the spread of Coronavirus pandemic has special impact on democracy all over the world, adding that restrictions imposed on movement and the state of emergency have a negative impact on human rights. Hundreds of electoral processes were due since March 2020 until today in dozens of countries, but they dealt with the pandemic in various ways. On one hand, some countries preferred to postpone elections, while others held elections under intensive measures to maintain the democratic process and gain citizens’ trust in the political regime, within health preventive measures. Moreover, some countries preferred making legislative amendments to the voting process. Shaqqura added, that there should be a balance between the elections requirements and the requirements for curbing the spread of the Coronavirus. The election requirements include the freedom to form political parties, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of movement, right to access information, freedom of political expression, and freedom from coercion and threats. He added that measures to combat the outbreak of coronavirus pandemic may need imposing restrictions on freedom of movement and peaceful assemblies, but such restrictions should be kept to a minimum, not to be arbitrary or employed for political purposes. This needs constant and intense monitoring. The electoral lists should be dealt equally with regard to the restrictions, including not giving specific lists authorizations for movement or assemblies. Also, such measures must be consistent with the general restrictions; for example, it is not permissible to allow normal gatherings and ban election- related gatherings.
Participants in the workshop stressed the need to respect the electoral campaigning laws, and official authorities should deal with all in an equitable manner. Also, the participants criticized the invalidity of the law in countering electoral campaign violations and clarified that this law is too old and does not take into account the development of the media and communication. In addition, the participants asked about how to control the condition which says that the election campaign should not exceed one million dollars and shall not receive money from foreign sources, stressing that the penalty prescribed by the law is not deterrent and unclear. Also, representatives of electoral lists called for granting movement permits for candidates to enable them to conduct electoral campaigns, and issuing facilitating-task cards for them. Furthermore, some representatives criticized how the electoral campaigns already started even before the date scheduled by law and wondered how electoral campaigns are conducted equally while the major political parties control the state resources.
For their part, representatives of CSOs stressed the need for equality between the electoral lists, taking into account Coronavirus repercussions, and the commitment of the electoral lists to conduct electoral campaigns within a specific health protocol to preserve the environment,
principles and values. CSOs emphasized that people’s health and safety are more important than electoral campaigns in public areas. Therefore, new and creative ways should be followed in the electoral campaigns.