Palestinian Elections: It's the Voting System, Stupid!

By Hill, Steven | The Humanist, May-June 2006 | Go to article overview

Palestinian Elections: It's the Voting System, Stupid!


Hill, Steven, The Humanist


MUCH HAND WRINGING and second guessing have been produced from the recent Palestinian elections that resulted in Hamas, a group on the Bush administration's terrorist list, winning a sizable majority of legislative seats. Analysts on the right and left have scrambled for a response, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice saying "nobody saw it coming."

The problem is, it never came--if the "it" is supposed to be overwhelming Palestinian support for Hamas. The truth is, the electoral system used for the elections gave grossly unrepresentative results in which Hamas won nearly a super majority of seats even though they didn't win even a majority of votes. The Hamas "victory" was the result of a poorly planned democracy that could have been righted by employing the electoral methods used in the recently successful Iraqi elections.

The Palestinian elections used a combination of a U.S.-style winner-take-all electoral system and a more European-style proportional voting system. Palestinian voters had a vote for their favorite political party (the proportional vote) and votes for individual candidates (the winner-take-all vote). Unfortunately, the winner-take-all part broke down and Hamas won way more seats than their votes should have given them.

Look at the actual results. In the proportional vote, which is a national vote and therefore the best measure of the overall support for each political party, Hamas won about 45 percent of the popular vote and about the same percentage of seats--30 of 66 seats, no majority there. The incumbent party, Fatah, won 41 percent of the popular vote and 27 of 66 seats, only three behind Hamas.

So the election was actually quite close, and if those were the only election results, Hamas wouldn't have won a majority of seats and would have needed to form a coalition with other political parties. A likely possibility is Hamas would have formed a grand coalition with Fatah, which would have provided a stable transition.

Instead, the winner-take-all seats, which are allocated by local districts, completely threw the election to Hamas. Though Hamas and Fatah had nearly equal support nationwide, Hamas won 46 of 66 seats--70 percent--in the winner-take-all districts and Fatah won only 16 district seats.

Overall, Hamas won a stunning 58 percent of legislative seats even though their national support was only around 45 percent. …

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