יום שני, דצמבר 18, 2006

 

Palestinian instability

It seems obvious that Israel will not be meaningfully secure until Palestine is stable. And events over the weekend portend an increasingly unstable situation in the Palestinian Territories.

President Mahmoud Abbas insists he will press on with his plan to hold early elections for both presidency and parliament, despite Hamas's claim that it will boycott them on the grounds that they are unconstitutional.

I have studied the Palestinian constitution, and Hamas's interpretation is correct, as best I can tell (from the English translation posted at the PA's website). There is no provision allowing the president to dissolve parliament and call early elections. The parliament was just elected in January for a four-year term.

What little of the coverage of the Palestinian elections noted, however, was that Hamas barely "won" the elections. In fact, Hamas was backed in the portion of Palestine's electoral system that asks for voters' party preference by only 44% of the voters. Fatah came in a very close second, with 41%.

If Palestine used an electoral system like that of Israel, Hamas would have won less than half the seats in parliament and been forced to form the unity government that Abbas has been trying for months to create. Instead, Palestine uses an electoral system in which only half the seats are allocated based on party preference. The others are elected by one of the world's worst electoral systems* and the result was that the overall outcome was 56% of the seats held by Hamas, which thus claimed it had no reason to form a unity government because the constitution allows the prime minister and cabinet to be appointed by the majority of parliament. Again Hamas's interpretation is correct.

The political tragedy in a situation filled with tragedy is that a majority of Palestinian voters voted against Hamas, and no doubt many of the plurality that did vote for it did so because of disgust with the staus quo, and not to endorse the Hamas rejectionist platform or its Syrian overlords. But Hamas's leadership was put in the drivers seat by the electoral system.

It's hard to see an end to the instability as the presidency and the parliament and their respective supporters clash over Abbas's attempt to call these elections. And the irony is that, if Hamas participated in them, it could very well win the presidency as well as retain the parliamentary majority (assuming no change in the electoral rules).

It is hard to see how Abbas's gambit--backed by Tony Blair on his visit over the weekend--can produce a better outcome than the status quo. Bad as that is.

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* Half the seats in the Palestinian parliament are elected in multi-seat districts by plurality--about as disproportional and therefore unrepresentative an electoral system as exists. The voter may cast votes for up to as many candidates as there are seats in the district. The winners are simply the candidates with the most votes. This system practically guarantees all the seats in the district go to the largest and best organized party. That is, if all or most of the plurality party's supporters use all their votes and cast them all for candidates of one party, it will sweep. Hamas was the plurality--but not majority--in most districts, and it also had the most disciplined supporters (i.e. they were somewhat more likely to use all their votes for their party's candidates than were Fatah voters). The other half of the seats are allocated by Territory-wide proportional representation, based on a separate party-list vote.

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