Yalla Peace: Out with the old (system)

To survive, Palestinians needs an election system that will result in true representation, rather than the failed one that has sputtered on and off.

mahmoud abbas 311 (photo credit: AP)
mahmoud abbas 311
(photo credit: AP)
Parliamentary systems do not really work in the Arab world. It definitely doesn’t work in Palestine, where coalitions are hard to establish and people vote not on the basis of issues but on ethnicity, religion, tribes and clans.
To survive, Palestinians need a real election system that will result in true representation by the people and for the people, rather than the failed system that has sputtered on and off since 2003.
There is nothing successful about any of the elections in Palestine, from the 2005 municipal and presidential elections to the 2006 legislative elections. International observers like former president Jimmy Carter can claim they were fair, but they are talking about the casting of the votes, not about the process of the election itself.
In fact, the history of Palestinian elections is one mess followed by another, with a minority of voters controlling the government. The 2005 municipal elections were supposed to be completed over several election dates. Voters were to select from two ballots, one a list of parties, the other a list of individual candidates. The election cycle was never completed.
Mahmoud Abbas was elected president in that same process on January 9, 2005, with 62 percent of the vote. But despite the majority, the system was unfair. State run media coverage was denied to his challengers.
After Abbas’s election, Hamas continued to act as a shadow government, engaging in foreign policy and suicide missions against Israel to further destroy the ailing peace process.
Built on the failed municipal elections, the legislative elections went ahead anyway on January 25, 2006.
A real election results when the majority of the voters chooses its leadership. That’s not what happened. Hamas won the election but never won a majority of the votes.
Hamas won 76 of the 132 parliamentary seats with Fatah winning only 43 seats, later increasing to 45. The remaining seats were won by smaller splinter groups which were less coalitions and more parties set up by individuals who had no real grassroots support.
The voting system was confusing. People voted on two ballots, again to select a “party” and then to select individuals. It was intentionally confusing, I think, because the powers that be wanted to undermine Hamas and strengthen Fatah. That backfired.
Hamas won a majority of parliament’s seats, but again, it only won 44 percent of the votes cast on the party lists. More than 50,000 of the 1.1 million votes cast were thrown out. Hamas candidates also only won 41% of the votes on the individual lists, while Fatah candidates won 37%.
Instead of embracing the peace process that brought the elections, jubilant Hamas leaders immediately declared their intention to undermine the peace process. That should not have been surprising as Hamas, and the left-wing rejectionist groups like the Jabha and extremist activists in the West, spent most of the prior 13 years using suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks to block peace.

PRIOR TO the election and the expansion of the parliament from 88 to132 seats, Fatah held a solid majority, 68 of the original 88 seats.What went wrong? Well, Fatah had the votes. But while Hamas offered nochoices, Fatah offered too many choices. That divided its base. Longtime Fatah leaders were engaged in an internal battle with young rebelswho sought to change the leadership of the party. That should have beendecided outside of the election, not during the election.
Rather than challenge the corrupt election system, the rulingPalestinian leadership, including Ahmed Qurei, who was appointed primeminister in 2003, too quickly accepted its fate.
What Palestine needs is a Western-style democratic system whereelections are held in two distinct rounds of voting. The first voterepresents the process by which party supporters decide who will betheir candidates. In the West, that is called a “primary” election.
The winners of the primaries then become the candidates who run foroffice in the final round, called the general election. Only when acandidate wins more than 50% of the votes cast in a general election isthat candidate declared the winner.
Because this election process was flawed and there was no clearmajority, Palestine was destined for turmoil. Abbas was supposed to runfor reelection in 2009 but that never happened because of the Hamas“victory.” In response, the PLO suspended elections and extendedAbbas’s term in office. Israel responded by imprisoning many in theHamas government. Rather than weaken Hamas, Israel’s policies empoweredit even more.
Recently, elections have been again delayed, but without offering areal alternative. That only makes matters worse. Instead of simplydelaying the elections, Abbas should reconstitute the election system.Throw out the parliamentary system. Replace it with a primary-generalelection process. Require that every office holder be elected by amajority of votes cast. Replace the office of prime minister with avice president and keep the power in the hands of the president.
In the event that there are more than two parties in an election andmore than two candidates, then if no one gets more than 50% of thevote, then the two highest vote-getters would run-off with the winnertaking the majority.
Without a new election system, there can be no democracy in Palestine.The turmoil of the failed elections in 2005 and 2006 will continue toundermine Palestinian democracy and prevent the nation from emerging asa whole.
The collapse of secular government in Palestine is not only Israel’sbiggest concern, it will also be a nightmare for the Palestinians.
The writer is an award-winning Palestinian columnist. He canbe reached at www.YallaPeace.com and rghanania@gmail.com