Guide for the Planning and Organization of Local Government Elections in the West Bank and Gaza

Publication Date: 
31 Dec 1997

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INTRODUCTION AND SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATIONS

In this manual, IFES presents a series of major recommendations concerning the organization of local government' elections in the West Bank and Gaza. With these elections, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza will have their first opportunity to establish democratically-chosen local governments. Local government, with its mandate to provide water, electricity, road repair, waste collection and other local services, as well as to issue business licenses and collect taxes, is the form of government closest to the people. Building effective local government structures, of which freely and fairly elected representatives are an essential part, will help to improve the daily lives of Palestinians. The ability of local council officials to respond to the needs and demands of their constituencies will be a key factor in Palestinians' assessment of the benefits of self-rule. Free and fair elections will provide an opportunity for Palestinians to select the leaders whom they believe will be most effective in providing local government services. For all these reasons, local elections will be a crucial step on the road to self-rule and a democratic Palestinian polity.

In contrast to the Palestinian Legislative Council, an institution of governance created within the framework of the Oslo Accords, local government is not new to the era of the Palestinian Authority. Under the British Mandate, and then under Jordanian and Egyptian rule, forms of municipal government and local councils existed in the West Bank and Gaza. After the Israel occupation in 1967, the established municipal government structure was basically maintained, and local councils continued to convene. But despite its long history, a variety of well-known factors prevented local government from achieving its full potential as a representative and effective institution. The Israeli authorities imposed many restrictions, such as prohibitions on levying local taxes and on issuing business licences, as well as budgetary controls, that served to diminish greatly the power of local government.

No local elections have taken place in the West Bank since 1976, when the Israelis convened municipal elections. Of the mayors elected at that time, all but one was eventually deposed, deported or assassinated. The last local elections were held in Gaza in 1948, under the British mandate. During the period of Israeli occupation, all councils in Gaza were appointed, depriving Gazans of the opportunity to select local government leaders. Since the beginning of self-rule, local government officials in the West Bank and Gaza have been appointed in advance of long awaited elections.

Under the Palestinian Authority, new possibilities exist for more representative and effective municipal government. The basic legal framework for local government is now established in two pieces of legislation approved by the Palestinian Legislative Council. These are the Palestinian Local Councils Election Law (referred to in this report as "the Election Law"), signed into law by ra'ees Yasser ‘Arafat in December 1996, and the Law for Palestinian Local Councils (also referred to as "the Local Government Law"), which 'Arafat signed into law in October 1997. The new Local Government Law is historic because it unifies the local government legal systems of the West Bank and Gaza. Previously, local government in the West Bank and Gaza operated under a complicated mixture of Ottoman custom; British Mandate, Egyptian and Jordanian legislation; and Israeli military decrees. The new law also provides for devolution of many powers to the local level.

For these reasons, it is evident why well organized, transparent, and competitive local elections, with a high level of participation from all sectors of Palestinian society, are so significant. These elections will be the second opportunity for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to vote for their leaders under self-rule, the first being the legislative and ra'ees elections of January 1996. In this way, local elections are a crucial step in developing democratic self-rule institutions and processes. IFES also hopes that municipal elections, following on the January 1996 elections, will help lay the groundwork for an impartial and open electoral framework and a sustainable system of regular competitive elections.

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