Sunday, 19 February 2006

How Hamas swept in district elections, creating the appearance of a landslide


Sunday, February 19, 2006
Page E - 5

Matthew Kalman

A close look at the final results of last month's Palestinian election shows that the apparent landslide that gave Hamas 74 of the 132 seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council and only 45 to the once-dominant Fatah movement was, in the words of one analyst, "an optical illusion."

Under a new system introduced by the Fatah-dominated council last year, the election was divided into two parts. Sixty-six seats were elected according to national lists of candidates, with seats apportioned according to the percentage of votes received by each party. The remaining 66 were allocated among 16 different districts, where voters cast a separate ballot for individuals to represent each district.

In the vote for the national lists, Hamas received 44.45 percent of the vote while Fatah scored 41.43 percent. This gave Hamas 29 seats to Fatah's 28, with nine seats for smaller parties. If the entire election been conducted on this model, Fatah could have stayed in power by cobbling together a coalition with two or three of the small parties.

But in the district elections, Hamas swept the board even though it attracted only a minority of votes. By running only one candidate, while multiple Fatah candidates canceled each other out, Hamas won 45 district seats to Fatah's 17, with four independents. Yet Hamas candidates received only 36.45 percent of total votes while Fatah and other non-Hamas candidates won 63.54 percent.

"In reality, a clear majority of Palestinians voted against the Hamas," said Gershon Baskin, co-director of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information. "What happened is that Hamas presented a unified list in each district, while Fatah and others had a multiplicity of candidates, which caused great divisions."

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