Towards a Consensus Formula for General Elections

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recently announced that general elections will be scheduled as soon as an agreement is reached with all factions, starting with parliamentary elections and followed by presidential elections.

Written by: Dr. Ramzi Odah

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recently announced that general elections will be scheduled as soon as an agreement is reached with all factions, starting with parliamentary elections and followed by presidential elections. It is expected that a presidential decree calling for the holding of elections will be approved after the factions’ meeting in the first week of October. The electoral system for which general elections are to be held is the proportional representation system, in accordance to the Presidential Decree on the Election Law passed in 2007. The acceleration in the holding of elections comes in response to the so-called “deal of the century” and its repercussions, especially the normalization agreements.

Although it is not fair for the Palestinians to struggle with the occupation alone, the majority of Arab countries encounter wars, revolutions and conflicts. The Palestinian National Authority’s attempt to bridge the division through general elections may lead to the strengthening of Palestinians’ ability to end the occupation. However, urgently holding elections and reconciliating may lead to disastrous consequences for the development of the Palestinian political system. Although President Mahmoud Abbas was seeking to create electoral legitimacy for the Fatah Movement after he succeeded in the presidential elections, the hasty result of the national consensus that culminated in the meeting of the Palestinian factions in Cairo in 2005 led to the agreement of an inadequate and insufficiently studied electoral system and to the acceleration in holding elections without finishing the basic amendments to the constitutional system.

Elections, according to the mixed electoral system and the lack of synchronization between the presidential and legislative elections, have created a “cohabitation,” where the president is from one party, the prime minister is from another party and the president’s party is not represented in the government. In light of a nascent political system that is not adapted as required to the state of stalemate and intractability that is usually associated with a state of coexistence, the Palestinian political system after the 2006 elections was stagnant and broken. In light of the national, regional and international political changes, Palestinians do not wish to repeat the experience of 2006, seek elections that could lead to more division or perpetuate the current division and/or to distance the main goal of the electoral process, ending the occupation; for the electoral process expresses the national desire and free will to liberate and establish an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

I believe that the upcoming legislative elections must combine the inputs of three main approaches in order to succeed and achieve the national goals, as the following:

  1. The Division Approach: Comparative studies in the field of political systems indicate that elections in divided countries perpetuate division. This is due to the lack of mutual trust between the parties, the absence of common interests and the lack of confidence in the respect of the election results. These studies recommend a set of measures that would mitigate the effects of holding elections in light of a division, including: the enhancement of mutual confidence, the development of legal and judicial systems, the formation of coalition governments to prepare for elections and the resolution of existing disputes between parties. After completing all these measures, elections can be held over a period of one to two years from the start of these steps.

  2. The Occupation Approach: The election process encounters a major challenge under occupation, as the historical experience of previous elections has shown that the occupying forces placed great obstacles in holding elections in occupied Jerusalem. In the same context, Israel rejected President Mahmoud Abbas’s request to hold elections in occupied Jerusalem last year. Furthermore, it is not expected that Israel will agree to hold elections in occupied Jerusalem, especially after the U.S.’s recognition of occupied Jerusalem as its capital. Any electoral system within which the next elections will be held must include an acceptable formula for holding elections in occupied Jerusalem, such as using an online voting tool, blockchain technology, or through the mail. The electoral system must also include a formula for the elected representatives who are in Israeli jails to vote. Any electoral formula must define acceptable and nationally agreed quota systems.
  3. The Palestinian Political System Approach: The semi-presidential political system is not the most suitable system for the sustainability and stability of democratic regimes, especially nascent ones, as is the case in the Palestinian political system. Parliamentary systems are usually more stable and adaptive to political and other changes. Nevertheless, if we assume that the parties agree on the continuation of the semi-presidential system despite the possibility of a recurrence of the “state of coexistence” under it, especially since presidential elections might not be associated with legislative elections, then it is logical for real changes and reforms to occur in the existing Palestinian political system; as the amended Palestinian Basic Law of 2005 contains many legal observations and loopholes in regard to the powers of the president and the Constitutional Court, and in the regulations governing the legislative and security institutions. In light of this approach, I recommend the Palestinian parties to follow a number of consecutive steps that are important and necessary for the success of the political process in Palestine, as the following:

    1. The formation of a broad consensus government to be agreed upon by the general secretaries of the factions to fulfill the task of completing consensual democracy and ending the division.

    2. The beginning of serious institutional steps aimed at ending the basis of division and creating a consensus on the required constitutional reforms, such as the Political Parties Law, the Election Law, etc.

    3. The adoption of a copy of the constitution of Palestine with some amendments to its draft.

    4. The postponement of elections until the end of next year in order to provide a real opportunity in overcoming the main differences and to encourage common interests between parties.

    5. The simultaneous holding of presidential elections with legislative elections within a period not exceeding six months between the two stages. The electoral process of the PLO institutions is organized no later than one year after the presidential elections.

The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author and not necessarily the opinion of the Association or donor.

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