The Fatah “over-nomination” thesis, reconsidered

Did Fatah over-nominate, and thereby cost themselves a majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council election of 2006? I have previously cast doubt on such claims, because Fatah had no more candidates in any district than the number of seats being elected. My understanding of over-nomination in a system where voters have M votes (M being the magnitude; i.e. the number elected in the district) would be a party having more than M candidates. By this standard, no, Fatah did not over-nominate.

However, this could be too narrow a view of over-nomination. We might want to include broader definitions of “camps” in our definition of the political tendencies that have potentially too many candidates.

I have ignored the independents before, because I have no information on them, and no way to know whether they were in any way affiliated with Fatah or any other party or movement in the election. A paper prepared back at the time by Jarret Blanc for IFES, “Palestinian Election Analysis: How Hamas Won the Majority“, has now come to my attention. The paper itself is no longer available on the IFES website. However, it is cited in Hamas: The Islamic Resistance Movement by Beverley Milton-Edwards and Stephen Farrell,* which I just finished reading. (I recommend it highly, by the way.) The authors cite Blanc’s finding that the number of additional legislators that Fatah could have won with greater unity was 18.

So I went back to my dataset on the election and attempted to replicate this. I made the following assumptions: (1) every defeated independent’s votes would have gone to a defeated (official) Fatah candidate, and (2) the votes would have followed the candidates’ actual ranks in votes in the district (i.e. the first losing independent’s votes would have gone to the first losing Fatah candidate, the second to the second, etc.). Note that these assumptions represent extreme leaps of faith! But without further information I can’t do much better.** If we do this, how many of the Fatah candidates now win, given their “revised” higher vote totals? I get 17. So my count essentially agrees with Blanc’s, which I assume was determined with some actual knowledge of the independents’ affiliations.

Of course, nearly all 17 (or 18) seats would have come at the expense of Change and Reform (Hamas), and the parliamentary breakdown would have been something like 62 Fatah, 57 Change and Reform. Out of 132 seats. (I have to assume the party-list votes, and hence seats, would have been the same.)

A passage in the Milton-Edwards and Farrell book further elaborates on the challenge Fatah faced:

Fatah’s campaign chief, Nabil Shaath, conceded that his biggest concern was the party’s rejected independent candidates, who stood against the official Fatah candidates out of genuine if misguided hope of winning, in order to punish the party for rejecting them, or to use the threat of candidacy as leverage to obtain some other benefit. (p. 251)

So did Fatah over-nomiante? Technically no. It nominated M official Fatah candidates per district in a system where voters could cast M votes. Moreover, as noted in the previous post on the topic, the party’s actual candidates typically did not deviate much in votes from one another, implying a fairly strong party orientation of its voters (albeit weaker than that for Hamas) around the candidates it actually endorsed.

Did it nominate badly? Maybe. But this is again down to the electoral-system design. In systems where nominal votes are decisive–as in the districts of the Palestinian electoral system–it is inherent to the system design that independents can run, that candidates can make personal appeals distinct from party label, and that some individual candidates may prove less popular than the party as a whole. The party needed to figure out a way to manage these personal factors before settling on candidates, and Fatah may have failed to do so. It does not follow necessarily that it should have run fewer Fatah-branded candidates, and there is always the possibility that had it given the party nod to some of the independents then some of its actual candidates might have run as independents instead.

None of this reconsideration of the original thesis changes the fact that Change and Reform won more votes–on the party list as well as for its candidates–than Fatah, and that the electoral system magnified the lead of the party whose candidates won the plurality. But it is possible that poor internal practices might have prevented the Fatah “camp” from converting its full pool of potential voters into seats.

Too bad they did not opt for an open-list PR system. Even SNTV would have been better for them.



* It was actually Andy Reynolds who, upon reading my earlier post, mentioned Blanc’s paper and the possibility of over-nomination. I was already reading the Milton-Edwards and Farrell book by then, and happened upon their citation to Blanc several days after Andy mentioned it.

** It is actually more likely, perhaps, that it would be the official Fatah candidates with fewer votes who would have picked up more of the independents’ votes. That is, the more popular official Fatah candidates more or less by definition already appealed to a larger bloc of the Fatah camp’s voters. The statistical assumptions involved in reassigning the votes in this way are simply too complex to bother with. (If anyone wants to try, I am happy to share the data!)


Some other points from the Milton-Edwards and Farrell book are worth quoting.

More observations on candidate-selection:

While Fatah put its strongest people on the national list, Hamas did the opposite, because it calculated, correctly, that people would vote along party lines for the party list but would be swayed by personal considerations when choosing a local MP. ‘When you vote for Hamas on the national list you are voting for the party, not for individuals. In the districts you select individuals, so if people are corrupt, not credible, people will not vote for them. Fatah wasted their strong candidates’, said Aqtash. (p. 255)

The quote within the quote is from Dr Nashat Aqtash, “a Nablus-born public relations expert”. Of course, I agree entirely, although I would again point out that the deviation of a party’s candidates’ votes shares would be expected to be higher than it was if personal factors were really a large factor. Still, the deviation was indeed higher in most districts for Fatah than for Hamas.

Aqtash is also quoted as saying:

I told [Hamas] not to run more than 50 per cent of candidates in the election because, if they actually won, they would find themselves in an impossible position. They wouldn’t be acceptable to the international community and they would be embarrassed in front of their people. But [Khaled] Meshaal insisted on running with a full list. (p. 255)

On the campaign and party label used by Hamas:

Even Hamas’s opponents conceded that its choice of electoral label – ‘Change and Reform’ – was inspired, capturing the pent-up desire among Palestinians for a new broom. The election manifesto also downplayed Hamas’s implacable external agenda, making no mention of its ultimate goal of eradicating Israel. Instead it spoke of ‘resistance to the occupation’ and ‘balanced’ relations with the West. It was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. In fact, Hamas’s new cadre of articulate spokesmen did continue to insist that the movement retained its claim to all of Palestine – Israel as well as the occupied Palestinian Territories. But they said it was still committed to Yassin’s 1997 offer of a long-term hudna based on a Palestinian state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. Hamas’s customary insistence on proclaiming its commitment to the armed struggle was sidelined behind management consultancy talk of priorities, competence, transparency and delivery of services. (p. 248)

The authors also offer support for something I warned about in a post at the time, warning we should not believe the exit polls: many respondents may simply have lied to exit-pollsers. They suggest this may even have been something Hamaas told its supporters to do.

5 thoughts on “The Fatah “over-nomination” thesis, reconsidered

  1. As I understand what MSS writes above, the key was the votes cast for independents. The question of overnomination presumes that a party can control the candidate slate available to voters who might plausibly support the party. So, technically, Fatah did not overnominate, but they might have done better (or at least caused Hamas to do worse) by nominating fewer and endorsing some independents (if only after the election).

    If we change the question from “did Fatah overnominate” to “did anti-Hamas forces overnominate” do we get a different answer? And if so, does the new question make any sense on the ground? I guess the depends on how many voters saw the election as a pro- or anti-Hamas choice. If most of the independents were rejected in their quest for the Fatah nomination, and so were likely to appeal to the same sorts of voters as would Fatah’s endorsees, then it would seem reasonable to argue that the “camp” fielded too many candidates.

    This came up a lot under SNTV in Japan. Often, the LDP’s slate of endorsed candidates would face independents without the official party endorsement, but with backing from a party faction that had lost the internal party battle over endorsements. In some districts the LDP would lose winnable seats because LDIs (Liberal Democratic Independents – hats off to Steve Reed) would suck up enough votes to knock out an endorsed LDP candidate, but not enough to win him/herself. Other times, the LDI candidate would win at the expense of the endorsed LDP candidate, and then be “endorsed” by the party after the fact (so the de facto overnomination would not matter, in what Reed referred to once as a game of “musical chairs”).

  2. Yes, Mike, those are the right questions. Assuming that it is correct that the Fatah-endorsed and “Fatah independent” candidates, combined, represent an over nomination by the anti-Hamas camp, then Fatah might have been better off by doing as you suggest: endorse fewer candidates, but accept successful independents back to the fold after the election.

    On the other hand, the MNTV vs. SNTV distinction matters here, doesn’t it? Voters have M votes, not just 1, and if I see my party has <M candidates, do I just stop after allocating a vote to each of their candidates, or do I know how to find the independents that are part of the camp? It seems it makes the coordination problem worse, especially if we assume that most of the candidates who actually ran would have run even without the official endorsement (although I do not know if that assumption is valid, of course).

    I wish there was a good way to get at this question. I assume the original ballots are not available for researchers to inspect, and it does not seem that votes are reported (at least not at the website) for local areas smaller than a district. If we had that, we could make inferences about independent vs. endorsee strengths in different localities.

    • Yes, I get the importance of MNTV vs. SNTV. But even in MNTV if the sum of Fatah and “Fatah Independents” was greater than M, then there was in some sense overnomination. My main point is that if independent candidacies are possible, then parties will have a hard time optimizing the number of nominations. So maybe it wasn’t in any meaningful sense Fatah’s “fault,” but despite their best efforts, they might have set up Hamas for some cheap wins.

      Just goes to show – if you’re going to reject a nomination seeker, especially one with a following, better make sure he “stays rejected.”

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