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Encouraging Active Participation in the Palestinian Legislative Elections of 2006

The Arab Thought Forum proposed to undertake a project before the elections to promote civic education and awareness to contribute to the integrity and transparency necessary for a free and fair election process.

The project‘s purpose was to increase citizen participation and involvement in election issues which in turn would help secure public confidence in the electoral process and encourage officials and candidates to operate more effectively. Because this initiative was to run parallel to the election campaign, it was hoped it would build citizen confidence in the belief that participation can lead to reform, an effective multi-party system, and trustworthy public institutions.

Project activities were deliberately designed and implemented well in advance of the election date to provide sufficient time for the public and candidates to contribute to the development of effective participation in order to positively influence the electoral process.

As the founding member of the Civil Society Monitoring Committee, ATF was active in monitoring the election processes of the previous presidential and local government elections, which enabled it to recognize inherent weaknesses and violations. The proposed project, therefore, aimed to address these issues and further respond to the need for public awareness deemed necessary for building trust during an election process. Specifically, this was to be achieved by:

Giving candidates the opportunity to hold public meetings during the campaigning period.

Providing non-partisan support to all candidates by offering them the opportunity to present their programs and agenda.

Giving voters the opportunity to gather information on candidates and compare and evaluate them.

Project Objectives:

The project aimed to encourage more active participation by Palestinian citizens during the elections and increase public confidence by facilitating active discussions between voters and candidates at the grassroots level.

Specific objectives of the project included:

Promoting political culture and public debates.

Promoting civic education on the election regulations and stimulating citizen participation and interest.

Providing candidate forums where candidates could debate and discuss their views and proposals with voters.
Issuing a detailed report on the election results including the election climate, electoral practices, remarks and lessons learned. The report was to be documented and published in ATF‘s periodic journal, Shu un Tanmawiyyeh, thereby increasing Palestinian literature on the subject, a critical post-election activity.

Project activities were carried out in two stages:
 
Stage one: The first stage focused on civic education aimed at encouraging different sectors of society to actively participate and positively influence the election. Meetings were organized in eleven town halls covering the eleven districts of the West Bank and involved approximately one thousand citizens and one hundred candidates. The content of the meetings included:
 
1. Discussions on the importance of active participation in the elections and the provision of information related to the basic rights of citizens.
 
2. An educational presentation addressing the current lack of a broad-based understanding of the key elements of free and fair elections.

Stage two: In this later stage, carried out during the official campaigning period, the focus was on the interaction of candidates and constituents with the belief that sharing views promotes democratic participation and increases the integrity of the elections. Meetings were organized in eleven town halls covering the eleven districts of the West Bank and and involved approximately one thousand citizens and one hundred candidates

The objective of the meetings was to open the floor for discussion in order to give candidates and constituents an opportunity to discuss relevant issues. The meetings were conducted in a congenial atmosphere where candidates were afforded an opportunity to present their programs and plans for the local council should they win office. Similarly, constituents were afforded the opportunity to voice their opinions and discuss their views of the proposed programs. Such open discussions had the added benefit of providing a basis for holding elected officials accountable during their term in office.

Information meetings were organized in each locality for constituents and candidates who were divided into groups. In each meeting, moderated by a facilitator, a small group of five or more candidates briefly presented their agendas and responded to questions and inquiries from the audience. Women voters and youths were invited to participate. Although this project was not intended to be a training program, it did incorporate important elements of indirect training.


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