If all goes according to plan, the Palestinians will soon hold their first parliamentary election since January 2006.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on January 15 said the parliamentary and presidential elections would be held on May 22 and July 31, respectively. And on August 31, Palestinians are expected to vote for the Palestinian National Council, the PLO’s legislative body and parliament-in-exile.
Nonetheless, many Palestinians are skeptical that the elections will take place, especially in light of the ongoing power struggle between Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction and Hamas.
Recently, internal squabbling in Fatah has caused more Palestinians to be skeptical about the prospects of holding the long-awaited elections. Some Fatah members, including Nasser al-Kidwa, have announced their intention to run on separate lists, drawing sharp criticism from Abbas and the Fatah leadership.
Despite the uncertainty, PA officials insist that there is no intention to delay or cancel the vote.
Israel, the US and some Arab countries have reportedly warned Abbas against the possibility that his strife-ridden Fatah may lose the parliamentary election, as was the case in 2006.
Since the establishment of the PA in 1994, the Palestinians have held three general elections for the presidency and parliament, the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC).
Israel, by contrast, has had 11 general elections during the same period, including Tuesday’s vote.
“If we had as many elections as Israel, we would be in a better situation than we are today,” said Palestinian political analyst Mustafa Izeddin. “Unfortunately, we don’t have real democracy in Palestine. We don’t have a functioning parliament like the Knesset, and President Abbas is in control of everything.”
The first Palestinian presidential and parliamentary elections were held in 1996, when former PLO chairman Yasser Arafat was elected president of the PA.
Fatah won 55 of the 88 PLC seats from multimember constituencies, with the number of representatives from each constituency determined by population. The election was boycotted by Hamas, whose leaders argued that they could not participate in a vote held under the umbrella of the Oslo Accords.
The second presidential election was held in 2005, shortly after the death of Arafat. Abbas won 62% of the vote.
A year later, Palestinians headed to polling stations to vote for the PLC. Hamas’s Change and Reform list won 44.5% of the vote, while Fatah gained 41.43%.
In 2005, the PLC passed a law to increase the number of members of the PLC from 88 to 132, with half to be elected using proportional representation and half by plurality-at-large voting in traditional constituencies.
The Knesset, by contrast, has 120 members. Like the PLC, the Knesset members are elected for a four-year term.
In 2007, Abbas issued a decree revoking the 2005 law, replacing the mixed electoral system with a system of full proportional representation.
Knesset elections are based on nationwide proportional representation.
Hamas’s victory triggered a power struggle with Fatah. The crisis reached its peak in the summer of 2007, when Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip after overthrowing Abbas’s PA regime.
Since then, the Palestinian parliament has been effectively paralyzed due to the dispute between Fatah and Hamas. Abbas, whose term in office expired in January 2009, has since been ruling the Palestinians as an autocratic leader, issuing laws by “presidential decree.”
In 2018, Abbas announced his decision to dissolve the inoperative PLC, a move that was condemned by Hamas and other Palestinian factions. “Abbas’s decision to dissolve the PLC has neither constitutional nor legal values,” Hamas said. “It is an invalid political decision.”
“It would be a shame if President Abbas cancels the elections,” said a veteran Fatah activist. “Each time I see elections in Israel, I wonder why the Palestinians cannot hold their own free and fair elections. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t have a democratic system like Israel.”