Written by: Faed Awashreh
After announcing the election results for the first round in Palestine’s municipalities and local authorities, the elected council holds the first meeting, which shall be presided by the oldest council member. In this meeting, the president and vice president are elected by the council, meaning that they are not elected directly by the public, but indirectly. Therefore, the first meeting of the municipal council is of great importance, as the elected members who wish to run as the president of the municipal council must obtain the majority’s approval, which may be easy to obtain in certain cases, but it becomes more difficult if family, tribal and organizational considerations overlap. The greater the number of winning electoral lists, the more a list's ability to form the municipal council will decrease, because it needs the majority’s approval. Thus, negotiations, solutions or deals resume by closing the door for candidacy. The phenomenon for sharing the president’s position of the municipal council emerged in the previous and last session as one of the most important techniques used to gain the local authority’s confidence. How does sharing this position look like, and what is its consequences? Does it provide radical solutions or create more complications?
Like any other "deal," council members work to agree on sharing the president’s role over a period of time, meaning that the members agree on two or more presidents, i.e., the first will occupy the role for a certain period, and then the second will follow for another predetermined period. For example, in a local authority, 5 held the president’s position for eight months, until the Ministry of Local Government intervened and dissolved the municipal council and appointed a committee headed by a retired public employee. In another municipality, the president’s term was shared amongst its members, each for one year, but the salary was shared on a monthly basis. When the president would receive his salary, he would then divide it amongst his 4 other counterparts. Since time-sharing of a president’s role is not legally regulated, the Ministry of Local Government refuses to deal with these agreements and leaves the whole matter to the municipal council. Thus, the only possible legal action is either the president’s resignation or the municipal council's vote of no-confidence. To clarify, suppose that a municipal council agreed to the sharing of presidency between two members. The council votes for the first member to become president in the first session, according to the agreement concluded between them. At the end of the agreed-upon period, the president submits his resignation in order for the second agreed member to become the president for the next and remaining period.
This phenomenon creates many problems and challenges, the first of which is the loss of citizens' confidence in local elections, in particular, and the concept of elections, in general. It also reinforces tribal, family and organizational considerations. All this is apart from quotas - which is the most appropriate term for this phenomenon - which contributes to weakening governance in local authorities. Instead of agreeing and negotiating about the plans and projects of the authority, the council engages in negotiating positions and "creative" solutions. As for the result, it is clear, because the council’s president - and indeed the entire council - who is governed by consensus of this kind, will not be able to take professional, objective and independent decisions. Instead of the president devoting his time and effort to the town's issues, he will remain captive in the game of maintaining balance. This situation raises another question: Will the president, who is making all this effort to maintain the various balances required by the continuity of his position, easily accept relinquishing this position, abide by what has been agreed upon and hand over the position to another president according to the agreement? The answer, of course, is clear: He will make every effort not to hand over the presidency of the council to another member, i.e., not to abide by the agreement. Since the agreement was reached from the family, tribal and organizational consensus, the failure to adhere to it will necessarily lead to disputes in the council, which will later move to the society, threatening civil peace.
The Ministry of Local Government must research this issue, either by organizing it legally and setting the necessary restraints, or simply leaving the matter to the electorate, through direct voting. It is important to note that the Local Authorities Law has amended what was stated in Law No. (1) of 1997 regarding local authorities, which stated: “The head of the local authority shall be elected in free and direct elections.”
The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author and not necessarily the opinion of the Association or donor.