Early Palestine elections?

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has stated he will order early elections for both president and parliament. Not surprisingly, Hamas, which won the parliamentary majority last January, rejects the call as a “coup attempt.” There have been armed clashes. The announcement has also split Abbas’s Fatah movement, with the armed wing and others rejecting the idea.

The constitution does not have a provision for the president to dissolve parliament, which has a four-year term, so if he carries out the process, Abbas risks a major institutional crisis. Indeed, it would be what in Latin America is called an auto-golpe. In other words, Hamas is right that it is essentially a coup threat.* It could be that Abbas simply wants to escalate the pressure on Hamas to agree to a “unity” government. Or he may be serious about early elections, which in any event, would not be held for several months.

If he is going to go forward with such an extra-constitutional move, here’s hoping he also finds a way to impose a more proportional electoral system for parliament and a runoff system for president. Currently, parliament is elected by a mixed-member majoritarian system that severely distorts the votes-to-seats translation (see previous discussion from January in the Palestine subdomain), and the president is elected by plurality.

Abbas won two thirds of the votes in an election boycotted by Hamas in January, 2005. Hamas won only 44% of the votes in parliamentary elections in January, 2006. But it won 56% of the seats. Abbas’s vote total was around half a million, while Hamas’s “mandate” rests on just over 440,000.

It is very unclear what the outcome of a new election might be. However, is quite ominous that, absent new rules being imposed along with early elections, if the 44%–41% close breakdown of the party-list votes from January were to be repeated, with Hamas again in the lead, Hamas would capture the presidency as well as a renewed legislative majority.

* Update: Unsurprisingly, Hamas says it will boycott any early elections.

0 thoughts on “Early Palestine elections?

  1. Whatever the outcome of the current clash between Hamas and Fatah may be, Palestinians at least have experienced earlier this year an election in which the outgoing rulers were defeated and after which a completely new government stepped in without having to use violence. Few countries in the region pass such a turnover-test: elections changing the government have happened many times in Turkey and once in Lebanon last year and Morocco in 2002 (was it?).

    And talking of elections in the Middle-East: according to Al Jazeera, “the United Arab Emirates is holding its first elections with a restricted number of voters (6,689 people) choosing half the members of an advisory council.”

  2. I’m not sure how he could impose a new electoral law, given that it would require parliamentary approval. He could, of course, decide that whatever doctrine of necessity justifies the calling of new elections also warrants amending the Basic Law, but every step he takes outside the constitution decreases his legitimacy, and legitimacy is what he really needs right now.

    In any event, I suspect that Abbas’ announcement is mainly a colossal bluff designed to get Hamas to give up its objections to a unity government. Note that resumption of unity negotiations was one of the terms in yesterday’s truce.

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