The Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) passed a long-delayed electoral law paving the way for legislative elections that had so far been indefinitely postponed. Although at the time an election date was not announced, the Central Elections Commission (CEC) declared it would need a period of three months to make preparations before a date could be set, during which registration of voters, candidate nomination and election campaigning could be conducted. These elections were to be the first for the PLC since 1996.
The new law created a mixed electoral system with half the candidates elected by local districts and the other half elected from a national list of party candidates. This replaced the current legislative voting process, whereby each electoral district voted for a separate list of candidates, with a national list whereby all districts chose from a single, nation-wide list of candidates for each party. The PLC also voted on increasing the number of council seats from the current 88 to 132.
Within the national list system, the new election law stipulated that a group must secure at least five percent of the vote to qualify for seats. It was considered that this percentage requirement would be easily achieved by Fatah and Hamas; however, it was considered an obstacle for the shrinking leftist groups and the emerging independent parties. Groups such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), and independent parties, such as the new Palestinian Initiative, may have had to join forces and run as one party or form a coalition, under the new national list approach, to increase their chances of election.
The proposed changes narrowed the political landscape into two dominant camps: Fatah and Hamas. At the time it was plausible that a third, broadly pluralist coalition, may emerge but competition with the established political and resistance movements would still have proven difficult to surmount. It was suggested that the results of the PLC elections may give way to a new Palestinian political landscape and trigger a significant reconstruction of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The results of recent municipal elections, in which the two dominant parties emerged as the major players, further indicated that the upcoming PLC elections would be a two-party race.
The perceived problem with Palestinian politics concerned the identity of the two principal Palestinian organizations rather than a conflict between young reformers and old diehards. It was perhaps best dealt with by bringing more forces into the political mainstream as opposed to excluding them. Current Palestinian political attitudes provided some indicators; the May 2005 poll found that 75 percent of surveyed persons would participate in the PLC elections. Although the poll found that the majority still trusted President Mahmoud Abbas and were satisfied with his performance, support for Fatah had dropped from 42 percent in December 2004 to 36 percent in May 2005. Meanwhile, public support for Hamas remained consistent at 20 percent between December 2004 and May 2005.
The PLC elections were to be held soon after the new law was passed giving Fatah little time to consolidate its approval rating with the Palestinian public and retain its position as head of the PA and the PLO. For Hamas, the elections were to be the first step in a drastic makeover of the Palestinian political landscape.
The Palestinian political map is shifting and unless there is a serious effort to incorporate a nation-building process that empowers moderate parties and candidates, the move towards Islamization of Palestinian politics will be a matter of time.
The parliamentary elections were not simply a case of direct competition between two dominant parties; many Palestinians voted on the basis of family and clan, with political programs having limited influence only. In many instances, the two parties had an indirect rivalry; both Fatah and Hamas were concerned with public perception (Hamas as extremist, Fatah as complacent and opportunist) and sought to overcome this by either recruiting independent, respectable candidates or forming alliances with them. It is also worth noting that the Palestinian resistance movement, Islamic Jihad, announced that it would boycott the legislative elections no matter when they were to be held.