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Palestinian Elections & Government: Legislative Elections

(January 2006)

Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, won a majority of the 132 seats available in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections, beating the ruling party Fatah 76-43. For the elections, 66 PLC seats could be won by proportional representation, and Hamas won 30 of these seats to Fatah's 27. The remainder of the seats were reserved for district representatives, and Hamas won a majority in all but two of the 16 districts in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian Authority Central Elections Commission (CEC) announced that 1,011,992 people voted out of a registered population of 1,332,396. The voting percentage was 74.64%. The total number of voters in all West Bank districts was 582,471 (73.1%) and in Gaza electoral districts 429,521 (76%.). The Rafah electoral district had the highest percentage of voter (82.65%). A total of 414 candidates competed for the 16 electoral districts and there were 11 electoral lists with 314 candidates competing nationwide.

In Ramallah, the district where the Palestinian government is located, and a Fatah stronghold, Hamas won four seats to Fatah's one. In east Jerusalem, where 6 PLC seats were available, Hamas defeated Fatah 4-2. Supporters of the group raised the Hamas flag over the Palestinian parliament building Hamas also won decisive victories in the two largest of the districts, Hebron and Gaza City, where the group took all of the available seats.

In a surprising turn of events following the early acknowledgment of a Hamas victory, Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and his cabinet resigned from their positions. Qureia, who said that the vote was “the choice of the people” and that it “should be respected,” apparently resigned to pave the way for Hamas' ascension to leadership of the government.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was elected separately in 2005, and was not affected by this vote. United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Abbas, and urged him to stay in office and not resign. If Abbas does stay in office, his next task is to appoint a prime minister to form a cabinet approved by the new parliament.

Even though the U.S. has clearly stated that it will not have a relationship with Hamas ministers in the Palestinian government, President Bush said he was pleased with the democratic process. Bush stated, “You see, when you give people the vote, you give people a chance to express themselves at the polls, they — and if they're unhappy with the status quo, they'll let you know.”

Bush also described the election day, one that concluded without major violence, to be a positive step for democracy. However, the Hamas victory could be seen as a major blow to the Bush administration's foreign policy plan for the Middle East. When PA officials realized Hamas was going to make a serious run at candidacy and might win, the initial thought was to postpone elections. The Bush administration however, firmly stated that free elections and the democratic process were top priorities because according to Bush, “democracy yields peace.” The administration is in effect somewhat responsible for pushing forward with the elections that have placed Hamas in the majority.

Hamas' victory could place the U.S., who contributes nearly $250 million annually to the PA, in an awkward position. The U.S. must now find creative ways to bypass Hamas ministers and meet only with Mahmoud Abbas and members of Fatah. Unless Hamas disarms and dismantles its terrorist infrastructure, the peace process under the confines of the Bush-backed road map cannot move beyond phase one, which calls for a complete cessation of terrorism.

Sources: Khaled abu Toameh, Associated Press, JPost staff, “Hamas takes 76 parliament seats compared to Fatah's 43,” The Jerusalem Post, (January 26, 2006); Nathan Guttman, “Analysis: Hamas victory puts US in a bind,” The Jerusalem Post, (January 27, 2006); Scott Wilson, “Hamas Gets Decisive Majority in Palestinian Elections,” The Washington Post, (January 26, 2006); Palestine News Agency, (January 26, 2006)