New Palestinian election law approved, legislative polls after 5 months
The lawmakers approved a new amendment proposed by Abbas (Article 110), which stipulates that the next presidential elections shall be held when the legislative session of the newly-elected PLC ends in accordance with the newly-amended law.
Article 110 guarantees Abbas at least another four years in office.
The new law will become effective three months after ratification by the president and publication in the official Gazette. The Palestinian Central Elections Commission (CEC) had already indicated in a statement in May that it needs at least two months after the new law becomes effective to arrange for parliamentary elections.
Accordingly the Palestinian legislative elections will not be held before at least five months, the Ramallah-based Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam reported on Sunday.
Palestinian electoral expert Dr. Taleb Awad told PMC however that the Palestinian Basic Law should also be amended to change the number of lawmakers from 88 to 132, as stipulated by the newly-approved law.
Awad expected that President Abbas could ratify both the amended Basic Law and the new elections law together.
PLC Speaker Rawhi Fattuh told reporters that the PLC will convene next week to discuss amendments to the Basic Law to conform with those made to the elections law and said it was not for the legislative council to set the date for new elections.
“That is the constitutional job of Abu Mazen (Abbas) but I expect that the date for the new elections will be on January 20 next year,” he told reporters.
The only previous Palestinian legislative elections were held on January 20, 1996.
“Now the ball is in President Abbas' court. There is nothing left but to set a date for the elections,” said Deputy PLC Speaker Hassan Khraisheh.
The PLC convened in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Saturday to discuss President Mahmoud Abbas’ amendments to the new election law, which the Palestinian lawmakers approved in the third and final reading on May 18, then passed it to Abbas for ratification.
However President Abbas did not ratify it and instead returned it to the PLC with his proposed amendments.
He proposed increasing the number of lawmakers from 88 to 132, which the PLC approved, but the Basic Law should be amended accordingly, Awad indicated.
The new law creates a mixed electoral system with half the lawmakers chosen by local districts, and the other half chosen from a national list of party candidates.
66 deputies will be elected in constituencies and 66 will be chosen by proportional representation in which voters will cast their ballots for the different parties. The national lists will then choose their representatives according to the percentage of votes cast, which must not be less than two percent of the votes cast for each list.
According to the draft that was approved in the third reading on May 18, the MPs backed the increase in the number of deputies, but they wanted two-thirds elected in constituencies and the remainder by proportional representation.
Differences over the voting system led earlier this month to the postponement of the elections, which were scheduled to take place on July 17.
The PLC third reading draft in May was opposed by Abbas as well as Hamas and other opposition parties because it was indifferent to a national consensus reached by 13 Palestinian factions in the Cairo declaration earlier in the year, which stipulated a 50-50 split between constituencies and proportional representation.
Factions Urge Timetable for Elections
Hamas reaction was muted, with a spokesman saying it was important that Abbas move swiftly to give the law his final seal of approval and set a date.
“It is too early to make a judgement about this new law because Mahmoud Abbas has so far not decided on a timetable for holding elections,” Sami Abu Zuhri told AFP.
“We want the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) to ratify the final law as soon as possible and then determine a specific date for the legislative elections,” Abu Zuhri added.
Three other Palestinian groups – Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front and Democratic Front – also welcomed the approval of the new law and urged Abbas to set a new date for parliamentary elections as soon as possible.
Rice Hails PLC Decision
Visiting US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice hailed the parliament's decision Saturday as an important day when she met civil society leaders in the West Bank hours after the new law was passed.
“There is nothing more important to the foundation of democracy than civil society,” she said.
She said the United States “applauds” Abbas's commitment to political reform and democratic society.
“We will work with the international community to support you and the Palestinian people in these efforts,” she added in a joint press conference with Abbas.