Conference in Ramallah on “Feminist, Political, and Human Rights Readings of Local Election Law”

Ramallah – October 31: The Palestinian Working Woman Society for Development (PWWSD) and the Palestinian Women’s Development Society (Annajdah) organized an open meeting at Masar Research Center in Ramallah. The event was held under the title of “Feminist, Political, and Human Rights Readings of Local Election Law”, in partnership with the Swedish Centre Party International Foundation (CIS).

The meeting was attended by MP Qays “Abu Laila” Abdul-Kareem, a women’s delegation from the Swedish Centre Party, a group of human rights and women’s organizations, and political and community leaders. This event comes as part of PWWSD and Annajdah’s strategy to strengthen women’s participation in political life. The meeting aims to encourage women to take an active role in decision-making on a personal and community level, to engage with the recent developments delaying the October 8 local elections, to lobby for holding the elections in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as a legal right and community need, and to highlight the proposed amendments to local election law.

The meeting comes at a time of Palestinian political and community mobilizing, following the decision to postpone the local elections and the negative impact this had on democratic freedoms in general, and particularly on women’s right to political participation. The event came to present recommendations that can shape the next stage of mobilizing, in light of the proposal to amend local election law, which requires an analytical reading of this suggestion.

PWWSD Women’s Empowerment program coordinator, Samar Hawash mentioned the goal of the meeting to strengthen women’s political participation and taking an active role in decision-making positions. As well as to engage with the recent developments resulting in postponing the local elections, following the proposal to amend local election law. Hawash talked about the negative impact of election delays on freedoms and women’s right to political participation, in light of the consecutive setbacks in the lives of Palestinian citizens; from a stagnant political horizon, to deepening division, a decline in freedom, and ongoing occupation and oppressive military practices against our people.

MP Qays “Abu Laila” Abdul-Kareem said that elections are a legal right for the community, highlighting the recent difficulties facing some councils, with local elections bringing hope for potential legislative and presidential elections, and noting that the political split has affected all aspects of Palestinian life.

Abu Laila added that he hopes local elections will pave the way for ending the split, as many political powers signed a code of honor to cooperate and prevent any disruptions. However, this agreement was not respected resulting in postponing the elections.

Abu Laila confirmed that further election delays will affect the periodic nature of elections and will impede the democratic process. He also addressed the government’s announcement that a new date for the elections will be determined within four month of the decision to postpone them. He wondered how the given delay period could resolve the main obstacles causing the decision to postpone. The issues being how to determine which judicial body can decide on electoral list appeals, as well as the need to re-examine local election law where infringing electoral lists have no chance to correct the terms they violated.

Abu Laila noted the ongoing public discussion on the nature of the electoral system to use in the coming stage, adding that there has been talk of an open list system since March 2016, but it was never adopted.

Abu Laila said that the open list system has pros and cons, highlighting that fighting over list positions would become obsolete, as the vote count would rearrange the list, with winners getting the most votes. However, the system would encourage fighting among the same list members if only one member receives votes, adding that it would be more useful to elect more than 40% of the number of list members.

Abu Laila recommended raising women’s quota to 30% by law, lowering the age of candidacy to 21 to encourage youth participation, opening a political community dialogue before adopting the open list system, ensuring a comprehensive national consensus on the suggested amendments, and re-discussing the role of the specialized election courts to reach a national consensus and remove it as a point of contention.

Annajdah director, Reema Nazzal said that Palestine is living many consecutive crises, and the government keeps surprising us with illogical decisions, including the election delay, and social security law prior to that, in addition to the amendments proposed for the electoral system lacking the necessary intersectoral insights, and adopting the open list system without preparing for it. Opening a dialogue with different sectors may be the needed new start of an uphill battle towards electoral change, but it will not be a quick-and-easy solution.

Nazzal noted that elections should be based on merit and professionalism, yet family biases and political affiliation continue to dominate, and prior to the postponement decision electoral lists were exclusionary to women and only placed them in lower positions.

Nazzal stated that the open list system would not be in women’s favor even if amended to include more than one elected member of the same list, as the widespread negative image of women will still limit women’s chances in elections, as family biases and political affiliation remain a largely deciding factor in the electoral process.

Arab World Democracy & Electoral Monitor (Al-Marsad) director, Aref Jaffal said that the lives of citizens should not be an experiment, and that amending the law without opening it up to dialogue would only complicate matters further. He added that the open list system would not strengthen the role of political parties, instead it would only create competition between members of the same party, calling to hold a trial run of the proposed system before its adoption.

Jaffal noted that what we need most at the moment is the political will of all parties involved to hold elections under the current proportional representation system, and any proposals for a future election law should be up for dialogue following the elections. He added that the most pressing matter is the political will to amend the currently applied law, and to solve the problems which led to the postponement decision, including specialized election courts, security, and the selected body to run the election process with the Central Elections Commission, as well as the Jerusalem dilemma.

Jaffal recommended that the Cabinet should set a date to hold the local elections using the current proportional representation system, with the aforementioned amendments.

PWWSD director general, Amal Khreisheh called for a meeting with political parties and organizations to agree on a binding law raising women’s representation to a minimum of 30%. She emphasized the need to hold local elections to end the current state of deterioration, affirming the need to stop any random and illogical law changes, demanding from political parties and parliamentary blocs to meet with their communities and have an open dialogue with the public.

The meeting then opened up the floor for discussion on the issues raised. Comments included a recommendation by the Women’s Coalition for Justice and Equality (Irada) representative, Leena Abdulhadi, to raise an explanatory list memo legally raising women’s quota to 30% and seeking parity (i.e. adopting a 30% quota and pursuing parity in the law). Other comments included the need to work on the “parity” demand, and to reconsider the election threshold, among others.

The meeting ended with a number of recommendations: Setting a date for the elections and not stalling; the need to formulate an official stance beyond the feminist movement on the proposed amendments to the law; adopting Irada’s proposal, where the explanatory list memo will be raised to the feminist movement to join efforts and raise the memo to relevant bodies and decision-makers that would legally raise women’s quota to a 30% ratio; lowering the age of candidacy to 21 and encouraging youth participation; opening a political community dialogue prior to adopting the open list system; ensuring the proposed amendments meet a comprehensive national consensus; the need for political parties and parliamentary blocs to communicate with the public and discuss the issues at hand; the need for parliamentary blocs to review the legal texts on interim facilitation committees to ensure they fulfill their role, no more and no less, as well and ensuring women and youth are included in those committees.