The Palestinian cabinet

The new “unity” or “grand coalition” cabinet of the Palestinian Territories has 12 Hamas members (including two Hamas-backed independents) and six members from Fatah. The rest are nonpartisan (5) or from small parties (2).

The cabinet thus fails to conform to Gamson’s Law, under which parties bargaining over portfolios split the portfolios in proportion to their contribution to the coalition’s legislative seats. We might have expected Palestine to deviate from the “Law” on account of either the Hamas majority (in which case the fact of a coalition is itself unexpected1) or the fact that this is not a parliamentary system, but rather a president-parliamentary system in which both the president and the parliamentary majority can make claims to constitutional authority over the cabinet (implying we might have expected an even split, given that Hamas controls the legislature and Fatah the presidency). And deviate it does, in a rather odd way.

First of all, Hamas has less than a majority of the portfolios, even counting the Hamas-backed independents in the party’s column. It has 48%, despite having 56.1% of the parliamentary seats.2 Its share of cabinet seats is thus closer to its percentage of the party-list vote at the last election that it is to its share of the new coalition’s seats. (The party’s legislative majority was ‘manufactured’ by the electoral system.)

Fatah has 24% of the portfolios, and 34.1% of the legislative seats, thereby having a much worse advantage ratio (% portfolios/% coalition seats) than Hamas (.704 vs. .856). If we were to ignore the five nonpartisan (and non-Hamas-backed) ministers, Hamas would have 60% and Fatah 30% of the partisan ministers.3 Not that we should ignore these, but in doing so Fatah would still be underrepresented. (See Alex’s comment for clarification; some of the “independents” are also actually parisan.)

The failure of Fatah to get the one third of portfolios to which it was Gamsonianly entitled is significant. Under article 154 of the constitution, the cabinet is considered to have resigned (and thus bargaining would have to start anew) if one third of its members resign. By having less than a third, Fatah has diminished bargaining power within the cabinet (even though having more than one third of legislative seats means it can sustain presidential vetoes).

Hamas will not be able to command cabinet votes on its own, given that it has less than half the portfolios. This is an important concession to Fatah. However, Fatah’s absence of a one-third share is at least as important and, combined with the Hamas parliamentary majority, suggests that “unity” cabinet is somewhat of a misnomer.


1. Of course, the initial experience of an all-Hamas cabinet, reflecting the party’s majority of the legislature, did not work out so well. Still, we might have expected their majority to have allowed them to hold out for an above-proportional share in a coalition.

2. Normally we would calculate the correspondence to Gamson’s Law using not the percentage of total legislative seats, but the percentage of the coalition’s seats. However, given that this cabinet is essentially a coalition of the whole, using the percentage of total seats is justified.

3. The other partisan ministers are one from the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and one from the Peoples Party. Each of these represents 5% of the partisan portfolios and 4% of the total cabinet, despite not having contested the election under these party banners. I do not know if these parties won seats at the election under another party/alliance banner or not. The total share of legislative seats for independents or parties other than Hamas or Fatah is 9.8%. (See Alex’s comment for more on this point.)

0 thoughts on “The Palestinian cabinet

  1. PPP and DFLP were members of the Alternative (2.9% votes, 2 seats). Actually, there are two other partisan ministers: the finance minister Salam Fayyad is part of Third Way (2 seats) and information minister Dr. Mustafa Barghouti is part of Independent Palestine (2 seats).

    [Alex, thanks for that. I would have guessed those two had been part of Alternative, but I was unsure. And I was just going by the affiliations noted at the linked news item. All of those small parties are very much over-represented, then.–MSS]

  2. Fatah is more powerful than it looks, because the coalition agreement called for each side to nominate a certain number of the independent ministers. I believe that if the Fatah-nominated independents are counted along with the partisan representatives, then Fatah has nine seats and thus controls more than a third of the cabinet.

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