The war between Israel and Gaza shows, among many other things, the drawbacks of certain institutional provisions that can hinder new countries with frail democratic regimes. Within Palestine, strong polarization has developed between those in favor of acknowledging the state of Israel and building some kind of coexistence arrangement and those in favor of annihilating the Israelis by violent means. This polarization, however, has been strongly prompted and enlarged by disgraceful institutional design.
After the so-called Oslo Accords between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, concurrent presidential and parliamentary elections were held in Palestine in 1996. Yasser Arafat was chosen president, with 88 percent of votes. Yet, for the Legislative Council, a bizarre electoral system based on multi-seat districts by plurality rule gave Arafat’s party, the nationalist Fatah (Palestinian National Liberation Movement, or ‘Opening’), which received only 31 percent of votes, an absolute majority of 63 percent of seats (55 out of 88).
The Legislative Council elaborated a provisional constitution for the Palestinian National Authority, to be enforced until full independence, which brought about long controversy between legislators and the president regarding the division of powers. The legislators managed to introduce the figure of a prime minister, to be submitted to confidence and censure by the Council, as in a parliamentary regime. But the president obtained the typical powers in a presidential regime, that is, the chairmanship of the armed forces and legislative veto (to be overridden only by a qualified majority of the Council), plus the power to dictate legislative decrees, the capacity to “direct the government”, and the faculty to declare the state of emergency without the Council’s approval. Arafat appointed a prime minister, but ceded to him neither the control of the security forces, which were crucial for internal appeasement, nor foreign representation to negotiate a stable settlement with Israel.
After Arafat’s death in 2005, there was a separate election for president. Mahmoud Abbas, from Fatah, was elected with 63 percent of votes, after the withdrawal of his main rival candidate from the islamist Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement). For the following legislative election in 2006, the number of seats was increased and the electoral system was changed to a mixed system of plurality rule and proportional representation. However, still a single candidacy, that of Hamas (running as ‘Change and Reform’), which obtained only 44 percent of votes, received an absolute majority of 56 percent of seats (74 out of 132).
Two separate powers, thus, emerged. Strong confrontation developed between president Abbas, who had been elected almost unopposed, and the Hamas party enjoying a fabricated majority in the Council. It eventually led to the split of the country between the Fatah-controlled West Bank and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, each with a prime minister supported by each of the two parties. Now, Abbas in the West Bank has postponed the presidential election which should be held this year, while Hamas, absorbed in the war, does not even talk about having that kind of thing.
Rein Taagepera said…
The Arab states in general have a marked ability to play complex games with electoral rules -- more complex than they can understand. It's 19th-century Europe at its most bewildering -- and
Electoral rules is one field where compromises may not be the best solution.
So I want to have a strong president and you want to have a PM dependent on parliamentary confidence?
Compromise: have both. Result: None.
Adrian Vogel said…
One simple question:
In this complex electoral situation where does female vote stand?
Which leads to another:
Can women vote under Hamas rule?
Thanks in advance for your answers
Matthew S. Shugart said...
I saw your blog entry on
I wonder if you ever saw the analysis I did at my blog, which Rein actually cites in Predicting Party Sizes:
The Hamas sweep: The electoral system did it
(27 January 2006)
“Before the election, in surveying the electoral rules, I noted that a parallel mixed-member system in which the nominal tier was multi-seat plurality (in the form of multiple non-transferable vote) would tend to generate a highly disproportional result. With an average district magnitude in the nominal tier of around 4, the disproportionality would be expected to be quite high, because the relationship between district magnitude and proportionality under plurality rule is the opposite of that under PR: Higher magnitude, greater disproportionality. The Palestinian nominal tier includes one 9-seat district and other districts of 8, 7 and 6 seats each. Only four districts have fewer than three seats..."
See the full post: CLICK