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Date posted: January 26, 2006
By MIFTAH

New Page 1

For the first time in ten years, Palestinians went to the polls in huge numbers yesterday to vote in their new legislature. Approximately 1.34 million Palestinians were eligible to vote in 2,721 polling stations, and, reportedly, the turnout was massive, at over 70%.

As opposed to the legislative elections of 1996, which were boycotted by several Palestinian factions and parties (and hence was primarily a monopoly for the ruling party Fatah), this time round the Palestinian public was able to choose freely from between 11 competing lists. Throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories, polling stations opened as scheduled. For the elections to run smoothly, even under the difficult conditions of occupation, Palestinian security forces were made to cast their ballots two days before (on January 23) so that they could be deployed across the Territories on Election Day to ensure the well-being and safety of voters and Central Elections Committee staff. Altogether, 13,500 security forces were deployed on Elections Day across the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

First MIFTAH, The Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy, would like to congratulate the Palestinian people for their large turnout yesterday, and for the orderly manner in which they voted, which demonstrated their support for the democratic process. Second, MIFTAH would like to extend thanks to all the election observers, both international and domestic, for the long hours and hard work they put in yesterday to ensure the peaceful conduct of the elections. Lastly, MIFTAH would like to thank the Palestinian Central Elections Committee, for its stellar work in organizing the elections and ensuring smooth proceedings.

MIFTAH was one among several local Palestinian NGOs to be granted observer status by the Palestinian Central Elections Committee (CEC). The following report is a list of MIFTAHs observations on electoral violations. However, MIFTAH would like to mention that despite these few violations, on the whole, voting was peaceful and in accordance with Palestinian electoral laws.

Lack of voter privacy at stations in east Jerusalem: According to MIFTAH sources, at the polling stations in east Jerusalem there was very little privacy for people to cast their vote. Monitors and Israeli security forces could see what list and for whom people were voting. This is in direct contravention of the code of privacy set forth by the Palestinian Central Elections Committee.

Limited voter access in Hebron: According to the Arabic news channel Al Jazeera, approximately 300 right-wing Israeli settlers controlled the entire Old City of Hebron yesterday, allegedly while guarded by Israeli forces. This limited the access of some 5,500 Palestinians to polling stations in the Old City. Also, according to the same Al Jazeera report, Israeli forces in the Old City prevented some polling stations from being opened.

Limited Palestinian security in Hebron: Also in Hebron, Palestinian security services were disallowed from guarding polling stations in the Old City by Israeli forces.

Campaigning in front of polling stations: According to MIFTAH sources, some parties were openly campaigning outside polling stations in Nablus and in east Jerusalem. Also, Al Jazeera reported that Palestinian security forces had to disperse a crowd of campaigners in front of a polling station in Gaza city (As per the CECs rules, campaigning was supposed to have stopped on January 24).

Limited voter access in east Jerusalem: According to the National Democratic Institute, Israeli security forces prevented some Palestinians from entering polling stations in east Jerusalem. According to various news sources, former Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Korei was stopped at an Israeli roadblock at az-Zaeem as he tried to enter east Jerusalem to observe election proceedings.

Clashes between rival factions: Two major violations were reported in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. In the village of Al-Shioukh, clashes were reported between members of Hamas and Fatah, which resulted in a few minor injuries. In another Bethlehem-area village, a Palestinian policeman was reportedly attacked and transferred to a nearby hospital.

Presence of guns at polling stations: According to Al Jazeera, in the Balata refugee camp armed men tried to enter a polling station. However, after a minor standoff they agreed to hand in their weapons in order to cast their ballots.

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