Last week, the Palestinian Authority announced plans to hold Palestinian presidential and parliamentary elections in January 2003. How will the elections work?
They will probably follow the guidelines of the last election, held in 1996, which were established by the Oslo Accords and a 1995 election law. Under those guidelines, all Palestinians 18 or older and living in the West Bank or Gaza—regardless of religion—had the right to vote. In 1996, presidential and parliamentary elections were held on the same day. There is talk of separating them this time, and the PA has also vowed to hold long-promised local elections for city and town councils.
Palestinians elect their head of state, the president, by simple majority. The president appoints Cabinet ministers, who serve at his pleasure. In the current government, President Yasser Arafat has 20.
Members of the Parliament, called the Palestinian Legislative Council, are elected by district. Each district has a certain number of seats, which generally go to the top vote-getters, except in a few districts where seats are guaranteed to Christians and women. The Parliament has 88 members, of which two-thirds are members of Arafat's Fatah party.
According to the most recent poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, the most popular party after Fatah is Hamas, followed by Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. All three are on the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations. All three refused to participate in the 1996 elections and will likely do so again. The non-Fatah seats in Parliament are held by independents.
The division of power in the government has never been clear. Five years ago, the legislative council passed the so-called Basic Law, a kind of constitution guaranteeing basic rights to Palestinians and setting up the branches of government. But it sat on Arafat's desk until May, when he finally announced that he had signed it. He still hasn't published it, though, and it's unclear whether the version he signed is the same as the one passed by the legislative council.
Explainer thanks Nathan Brown of George Washington University and Tamara Wittes of the Middle East Institute.