Fifteen Political Parties signed the Code of Conduct on the 17th October, 2005.
Follow-up committees started working.
The Palestinian legislative elections were an important milestone in the Palestinian march towards democracy, building state institutions and establishing a new political system. The fact that these elections emerged from drastic political changes on the ground provided an important base for furthering the development of a new Palestinian political system and state. Utilizing this base became the focus of an initiative aimed at increasing citizen participation and developing an environment more conducive to the electoral process. The election process was of particular importance, not only as a necessary constitutional step, but also as a major factor in shaping the future of the Palestinian political system.
In order to provide a suitable environment for such an important process, careful preparation and implementation of procedures had to take place before, during and after the elections. Such an environment would be a determining factor on future democratic practices undertaken.
Contrary to the 1996 election which was manipulated by one party, this election was expected to involve active participation from across the political spectrum. In light of an existing weak election culture, previously flawed election practices and a polarized society, any negative outcomes from this election process could not only have had a detrimental effect on future elections but also on society by instilling or reinforcing incorrect norms and distrust for democracy. Consequently, efforts were made to ensure an election process acceptable to the public and political parties by prohibiting violence, coercion or intimidation.
The accumulated experiences of existing democracies led to the development of an election Code of Conduct for Political Parties. The purpose of the code is to ensure political parties and candidates, and their representatives, conduct an election campaign based on ideals and standards consistent with democratic principles. Inspiration is drawn from the morals and precepts of societal traditions. Considering the absence of such a code in Palestine, a project was proposed with the intention of developing a Palestinian Electoral Code of Conduct based on a participatory approach involving political parties and other relevant groups involved in the electoral process.
Although this initiative was not intended to be a training task, it did incorporate important elements of indirect training and education aimed at encouraging more active involvement and commitment from Palestinian political parties in line with the needs of ensuring a free, fair and just election, and increasing public confidence through facilitating active discussions among representatives of the Palestinians political parties, civil society organizations and other concerned groups.
This initiative is in addition to the strategies of previous and current projects which focus on related election issues aimed at developing the capacity of Palestinian institutions and increasing public participation. The expected results were enhanced electoral integrity, the securing of public confidence and a gradual development of a democratic culture including frequent elections.
The aim was to develop an electoral Code of Conduct for political parties, candidates and representatives who could then base their campaigns on ideals and standards of democratic principles and seek inspiration from the morals and precepts of societal traditions; electoral campaigning was to be conducted in a peaceful orderly manner, focusing on public issues and avoiding personal recrimination and abuse, firm discipline in preventing violence, intimidation and breaches of the election law.
The steps of the initiative included:
Organizing 13 meetings with the political parties intending to run in the elections.
Forming a working group from representatives of the political parties and the Central Election Commission.
Developing a draft Palestinian Code of Conduct for political parties.
Organizing a one day conference to finalize and adopt the code.
Issuing and widely disseminating the final version of the Palestinian Code of Conduct.
It was the intention of the Arab Thought Forum to further utilize this development and use the Code of Conduct as a tool for monitoring the election based on the principles adopted by the running parties and groups.
Mr. Anton Penton, the Legal Director for the South African Central Election Commission, spent one week in Palestine to share the experiences of South Africa in developing its code of conduct. Two public meetings were conducted in Ramallah and Gaza for this purpose.
A working group representing the 13 political parties was formed to conclude the code. On 17th October, 2005 the formal signing of the Code of Conduct was held in Ramallah. Special arrangements were made to allow parties that emerged after this date to also sign the code. All political parties running in the elections adopted and adhered to the code including Hamas which added its signature on 4th January, 2006. Many independent candidates were also among the signatories and it was expected that all individual candidates would sign the code during the coming days.
A National Follow-Up Committee representing all parties was formed. The Arab Thought Forum was selected as the General Coordinator of the Committee. Counterpart committees with similar structures were also formed in Gaza and an additional sixteen local committees were formed to begin work in each electoral district. The district committees conducted meetings for all candidates and campaign managers in their areas, including independents. In total, the district and national committees included more than 270 political party representatives in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in addition to ninty observers appointed by the Arab Thought Forum.