The Palestinian High Commission for Local Elections organized the second phase of local elections in 84 electoral districts in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT); eight of which in the Gaza Strip: Beit Lahia, north; Gaza Valley and Al Mughraqa, Gaza District, Al Buriej an Al Salqa Valley, middle, Abasan Al Kabeera and Abassan Al Jadida, Khan Younis District and Rafah, south.
Al Mezan Center for Human Rights organized a monitoring campaign; the third of this kind this year, to observe the elections; which was organized in accordance of the Local Agencies' Elections Law 5/1996.
The Commission will announce the final results on Sunday, 8 May 2005.
The Center commends the implementation of the second phase of elections, which was generally transparent and successful.
In light of its monitoring, the Center believes that the elections took place in accordance with the provisions of the law and of the internationally accepted standards for fair and democratic elections.
However, the Center documented a variety of violations of the law and partial deficiency in the Commission's performance in several districts.
These violations did not significantly affect the final result and the integrity of the elections processes.
Except for one case where the officer of one polling center's performance was questionable, the Commission carried out its functions efficiently and responsibly.
While the Center also records the cooperation of the Commission in most of the districts, it denounces the refusal by the manager of Khan Younis District office to cooperate with the Center's observers and staff regarding issuing written complaints opposite to violations in the polling stations.
Although the Center contacted him and the Commission's administration in the Gaza Strip, he refused to allow the observers to issue written complaints to pursue their role properly.
Numerous officers of polling centers in Rafah also refused to hand original forms of written complaints to the observers despite the cooperation of Rafah District Office.
Once again, Al Mezan reaffirms its commitment to the standards of human rights, democracy and neutrality in its role in monitoring elections.
It wishes to call attention to certain mitigating factors that it spotted during the Election Day: The presence of groups of the supporters of various blocks and candidates, some of whom were armed, wearing clothes and signs of campaigns at the doors of the polling centers causing serious disorder and breaching the law, which states that all kinds of campaigning must stop 24 hours prior to the election day.
Other features of election campaigns continued into the Election Day; including the presence of posters and signs in and at the doors of polling centers.
Allowing women wearing veils on their faces to vote without assuring that they are the persons appearing in the ID cards they bear.
This continued in numerous polling stations in spite of the observers' complaints The state of disorder around and inside polling centers, especially in Khan Younis District, where three polling stations were closed for three hours in Abassn Al Jadida.
In several cases, the disorder grew into fracases in which voters were wounded.
The observers, as well as voters, were surprised by the change of the polling center no.
0983 in Rafah, which was transformed by the Commission in to polling center no.
5134 and assigned for the civil registry voters, without any advertisement.
This change caused a state of chaos among the voters, many of whom were not able to find their new polling stations and vote and demonstrated before the Commission's District Office in Rafah.
The polling centers no.
0978 and no.
5130 witnessed an electricity cut-off between 5pm and 7:pm; half an hour after the closing of the polling stations in them, even though the buildings in the same neighborhood had regular electricity supply.
At 7pm, upon the closure of polling centers, the officer in charge of the center no.
5106 in Beit Lahia District closed the center and refused to allow voters who had been inside it to vote, contrary to the procedures announced by the Commission earlier.
The officer in charge of polling station no.
1 in the polling center no.
0887 in Al Bureij District refused to provide the number of blank polling sheets to the Center's observer or to allow him access to the opening protocol contrary to the legal procedures.
At 7:35pm, the officer in charge of polling center no.
0740 in Beit Lahia ordered all the observers to leave the polling centers in the pretense that the staffs needed to arrange for the counting of votes.
This order continued for more than five minutes, during which all the observers were not able to watch the polling stations.
They entered the station without the officer's request.
Al Mezan Center for Human Rights has included these notes motivated by its high interest in and commitment to the promotion of democracy and human rights its support of establishing fair democratic electoral experiences in Palestine.
The Center's notes, which were based on the observation of the previous elections, contributed to the amendment of numerous procedures and to more compliance with the provisions of the law.
The Center hopes that the OPT will have fair and democratic legislative and local elections in the future, and that the bodies organizing elections will cease any violations that appeared in this local election.
While Al Mezan believes the second phase of the local elections was carried out in compliance with the law, it asserts that most of the breaches it documented were caused by the lack of training of the Commission's staffs and the inaction of the police forces to prevent the campaigning activities in the polling centers.
The Center will soon submit a detailed report on this phase of elections.
Al Mezan welcomes the organization of this phase and of the previous local and presidential elections.
It also commends the assertion by the Palestinian National Authority concerning the organization of the legislative elections in July 2005, which will promote the democratic practice and citizens' participation in public life under the Palestinian law.