The path to democracy does not lie only in the holding of elections in their periodic form, but this road needs guards whose strength stems from the constitution, institutions and the judiciary in order to create a permanent and effective environment to truly understand the essence of the democratic process and the series of processes accompanying the electoral process.
Written by: Dr. Khalil Abu Karsh
Democracy has been nonexistent in Palestine ever since the division the occurred in 2006. Regardless of all the meetings and encounters attempting to end the division, returning to the ballot box seemed to be the only solution to all the challenges and obstacles that have arisen. Palestinians moved from one state to another and from one mediator to another hoping to achieve a breakthrough that would enable them to end the division and renew legitimacy. Success was in sight, as the presidential decree was issued following the factions’ agreement to determine the date of holding the legislative and presidential elections along with the elections for the Palestinian National Council.
However, there are two questions that remain: 1. Once general elections are held, will we have achieved what we have always dreamed of? 2. Would we be able to say that we have become members of the democratic countries club? In my opinion, we must first create the appropriate environment for the success of elections and ensure a peaceful and smooth transfer of power, as this transition process includes various elements of the political system, such as the constitutional and legal structure, as well as citizen’s participation in the political process. A study conducted by Adam Przeworski, a professor of political science and one of the most important theorists of democratic societies, indicated that 68 countries have never experienced a peaceful transfer of power between parties as a result of an election, as nearly 3,000 elections have taken place across the world. The study also inquired the motives and incentives that lead the candidates to expose themselves to the possibility of defeat while running in elections, especially since the opposition does not just want to defeat you, but to destroy you. Certainly, Palestinians do not want to repeat past experiences.
There are many difficulties and obstacles when attempting to achieve a peaceful transfer of power, of which some are related to the social structure. Traditional structures, the values that they carry and the nature from which individuals derive political awareness, do not achieve a true understanding of the necessities of democracy where citizens enjoy their rights and duties. Another obstacle is related to the structure of the existing system, as there is no real separation between the 3 authorities. This is accompanied by the absence of political pluralism and elites who are capable of bringing about change that develops and improves individuals and society, contributing to the restoration of the capacity of democratic institutional forces which guarantee a peaceful transfer of power immune from collapse and without being accompanied by violence or chaos.
Based on the previous elections that took place in 2006, Palestinians succeeded in conducting free and fair elections, where a level of political equality was achieved and guarantees of political and civil rights were provided. However, this did not lead to a peaceful transfer of power, rather the Palestinians entered into a cycle of violence that contributed to a political and geographical division between the two parts of the country, and the entire democratic process came to a halt.
It is necessary for there to be a more in-depth analysis of the political and social structures along with the Palestinian elites in order to identify and recognize the changes that have occurred in the internal Palestinian scene in order to ensure a smooth transition of power that does not lead to violence. The summit of the iceberg is represented in the holding of elections, but the invisible part is perhaps the most dangerous and influential, which is the main analysis center that ensures the continuity of the democratic process. There must also be open workshops for elites and institutions to work together in order to draw a path for society to follow if we want democracy to last in all aspects of our lives. There may be confusion and issues between democracy as a method of government and elections as a tool for transferring power. Perhaps this confusion is what pushed elections to be considered as the only way through which we translate our concept of democracy. The road to democracy does not lie only in the holding of elections in their periodic form, but this road needs guards whose strength stems from the constitution, institutions and the judiciary in order to create a permanent and effective environment to truly understand the essence of the democratic process and the series of processes accompanying the electoral process.
The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author and not necessarily the opinion of the Association or donor.