The 2017 local council elections is the third local elections since the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority in 1994. However, due to the internal political division, elections were organized, for the second time, in the West Bank only without the Gaza Strip.
In June 2016, the government called for holding the third local elections in 416 local councils in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on the legally due date of 8 October 2016. Voter registration, exhibition/challenge and nomination were conducted with 864 candidate electoral lists in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
However, during the appeals stage, the Supreme Court of Justice received claims that the Courts of First Instance in Gaza were illegal. The Court considered these cases and decided, in its session on 3 October 2016, to halt elections in the Gaza Strip due to the absence of legitimate judiciary formed in accordance with the Basic Law and relevant laws. Meanwhile, the decision called for resuming elections in the West Bank.
In order to avoid deepening the division by holding elections in the West Bank only, the Central Elections Commission recommended, in an urgent letter to Mr. President Mahmoud Abbas, to postpone local elections in the West Bank for a period of six months to allow for rearranging the internal Palestinian situation, after which, a call for a nationwide elections in one day will be made. Subsequently, the Cabinet issued in the following day, a decree postponing local elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for four months, during which efforts to be exerted towards enabling an appropriate legal environment to ensure holding elections in all Palestinian local councils in a single day.
On 31 January 2017, the Cabinet issued a resolution calling for holding local elections (the third elections) in a single day in all localities of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The elections day was set for May 13, 2017.
However, Hamas informed the CEC, during a meeting held in Gaza, of its refusal to hold elections in the Gaza Strip attributing its stance to rejecting the amendment to the elections law and / or not consulting the movement with regards to the amendment. Accordingly, the Cabinet issued a decision in February 2017 postponing elections in the Gaza Strip while resuming it in 391 localities in the West Bank.
On the basis of that decision, the CEC commenced elections preparations in the West Bank and published the electoral calendar, the first phase of which began with voter registration, exhibition and challenges in early March. At the end of the nomination period, 145 localities in the West Bank had more than one nominated list which enabled holding of elections in these localities. In 181 localities, a single list in each was nominated, thus qualified the lists to win elections by acclamation. Sixty-five localities remained in which no lists were nominated. As a result, the Cabinet called for holding complementary elections on July 29, 2017 in these localities, in addition to four localities where elections were held on 13 May whose councils resigned later on. Moreover, in one locality, voters did not take part in the elections held on 13 May, therefore, were subject to re-run elections. Thus, the number of localities included in the complementary elections register was 70.
Local elections took place in 159 localities according to the system of full proportional representation and local council elections law No. 10 of 2005 and its further amendments including those pertaining to the competent court.
Elections were conducted smoothly, without serious challenges or violations that could have affected elections results. Local and international observation bodies commended the integrity and professionalism of the electoral process. The CEC announced the preliminary elections results in less than 24 hours after the closing of ballot boxes, in conjunction with the publication of the detailed elections results on its webpage, allowing for the submission of appeals in accordance with the law.
By the end of the appeals phase, the CEC issued winning certificates to local councils and handed them over to the Ministry of Local Government. By this, Local elections in the West Bank were completed; however remained 38 localities in which no lists were nominated, and thus the formation of their local councils was left to the Cabinet.
Of particular interest in the 2017 local elections are the following:
- The percentage of participation in the 2017 elections reached 53.9%, which is very close to the percentage of the 2012 elections of 53.8%.
- A decrease in the number of localities which won by acclamation (199), due to having only a single nominated list in each, constituting 51% of the total localities compared with 61% in 2012. The consensus on a single list is contrary to elections. The lower the rate of acclamation percentage, the higher the index of democracy.
- The issue of electoral campaigning and obliging candidates and lists to abide by campaigning regulations was one of the biggest challenges faced by the CEC, especially campaigning through social media such as facebook, twitter and YouTube. The CEC was unable to control and monitor the election campaign properly due to lacking of proper tools.
- The CEC introduced online registration of voters, through its webpage for the first time in Palestine in 2016. The system was adopted during the phases of registration, exhibition and challenge in the 2017 local elections. The system allowed citizens to add their names to the voter registry, in parallel with the traditional paper registration method. The CEC aimed from this service to facilitate the registration process and decrease registration time, effort and cost.
- For the first time, the CEC provided facilitations and set special procedures for persons with disabilities to facilitate their elections participation as voters, candidates, observers and journalists. The CEC offered facilitations in terms of recruitment of staff and services to observers, provision of publications and awareness material in Braille and sign languages and rehabilitation of polling centers.
Inevitably, one cannot discuss elections without referring to the general context and conditions under which elections were held, particularly the division between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and elections boycott by a number of factions such as Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Local elections coincided with the strike of freedom and dignity of Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails on 13 May, while complementary elections coincided with the heroic popular move to defend Al Aqsa Mosque. Nonetheless, Palestinians participated in elections with the usual participation rate, in the belief that the political events should not exempt them from their responsibilities in participating in the democratic process.
Despite the internal Palestinian challenges facing local elections, the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories remains the most serious challenge to the electoral and democratic process in Palestine. The extensive restrictions on movement imposed by the Israeli occupation on Palestinian citizens continue to hamper CEC’s ability to carry out its responsibilities, which negatively affects voters’ ability to exercise their legitimate rights, particularly in the occupied city of Jerusalem where the occupation authorities continue to deprive Palestinians from electing their representatives in the local council of their city.
Although local elections did not include East Jerusalem, however, it covered villages and adjacent Palestinian neighborhoods in the Jerusalem district.
Finally, it should be noted that local elections did not include refugee camps due to an autonomous decision by refugee representatives to not to hold local elections for political reasons related to the right of return.