Esteemed President and Members of the Central Elections Committee of the Sharia’ Bar Association in Gaza,
Subject: MUSAWA's Monitoring Report on the Elections of the Sharia’ Bar Council (2023-2027)
MUSAWA-The Palestinian Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession - extends its warmest greetings and is pleased to share with you its monitoring report on the Sharia’ Bar Council (2023-2027) elections, which took place on Saturday, March 4, 2023, from 9:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. at Rashad Al-Shawa Cultural Center in Gaza. This report includes what was documented by MUSAWA's monitoring team, led by Adv. Rula Mousa, legal oversight officer at MUSAWA's office in Gaza, and two lawyers, Mr.Ahmed Abu Daqqa and Mr. Marwan Baroud, who supervised the electoral process since the electoral silence on 3/3/2023 and continued through the polling and counting processes, until the results were announced at 10:30 p.m.
According to the report, there were many violations during the electoral process. We believe these violations should be addressed to promote the integrity and transparency of the electoral process, enhance the trust and confidence of the general assembly and the public in the electoral process, motivate them to demand their right in choosing their representatives and leaders in the various civil and official institutions including the legislative, presidential, and national council elections, and give them the right to form their own trade unions that express their aspirations and defend their interests, and whose leaders are elected by them in free and periodic elections. However, based on the report and in accordance with the principles and mechanisms of fair and transparent elections, we believe that all incidents and violations that occurred during all three election phases, as monitored by MUSAWA's team, do not affect the final outcome of the elections, despite being serious matters that require legal measures. We hope that you and the elected Council of the Bar will thoroughly examine the above issues and work to address and overcome them, hoping that the Sharia’ lawyers in the West Bank will follow your lead and speak out to secure their right in forming an independent Sharia’ Bar Association in the southern governorates.
Before we list the violations, we would like to make a few points. First, selecting and forming your committee from just one party undermines its impartiality, which in turn compromises the integrity of the elections and voter turnout. Second, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Al-Mezan, the Independent Commission, and MUSAWA were the only civil society organizations monitoring the polling and counting processes.
There are 1,120 lawyers (55% Men, 45% Women) who are members of the Bar and eligible to vote, according to the reports given by your committee. Also, the number of the general assembly members who voted is 846, and the counting process showed that 826 of the ballot papers are valid, 9 spoiled ballots, and 10 blank papers, in addition to a one-paper difference between the number of ballot papers and the number of voters. As per the results, Adv. Ayman Abo Aisha was elected as Sharia’ Bar president with 591 votes, while Adv. Mohammad Abo Amra received 180 votes and Adv. Saed Shihadeh received 55 votes. The council seats were divided as follows:
– Al-Quds Al-Naqabiya list won 1 seat on the council, Adv. Naa’ma Sbitan (64 votes).
– Siham Al-Adalah list won 1 seat, Adv. Siham Al-Shawwa (72 votes).
– Watan List won 1 seat, Adv. Samir Hasaneyyeh (95 votes).
– Palestine List won 1 seat, Adv. Maysara Abo Matar (101 votes)
– Naqaba Mihaniya list won 4 seats, Adv. Wael Abo Assi / Adv. Yousef Ashour / Adv. Tahani Al-Ostaz / Adv. Hani Abo Reyala, (494 votes).
It is worth noting the remarkable percentage of women in the council, the majority of whom are under the age of 35.
The main violations observed by MUSAWA’s monitoring team
First – The Main violations during the electoral silence phase:
– The continuance of electoral campaigning during the electoral silence phase by sending phone messages to lawyers/members of the general assembly until midnight, and this goes on until the polls open in the morning. The majority of these infractions are linked to one of the electoral lists (The name is reserved with MUSAWA).
– Sharing and posting in the Sharia’' Lawyers' groups and forums is prohibited for lawyers who do not support a certain electoral list (The name is reserved with MUSAWA), while other candidates who support that electoral list continued their social media advertisements.
Second – The most notable violations during the polling process
– Tents are still being set up at the same place where voters line up, campaigning and raving with music and chants.
– Putting up campaign posters in the polling booth that stayed there during the entirety of the polling and counting phases.
– Candidates handed out campaign flyers to voters, as they enter the polling station, in an attempt to sway their votes.
– Despite the presence of police officers in the area, security personnel entered the polling station repeatedly as an act of nepotism and favoritism to certain candidates.
– More than once, the president of your committee got into an argument with a representative from one of the electoral lists, prompting people to step in and try to calm things down, which halted the polling process for 5 minutes.
– The president of your committee refused to share the voters' list and voter count with the electoral lists’ representative.
– From the start of the polling process until 3 p.m., four of the seven polling booths were empty.
– The committee president requested that MUSAWA's monitoring team issue a statement to the media, which MUSAWA's team politely declined because this matter falls outside of their duties and responsibilities.
– The electoral lists' representatives objected to the suggestion your committee's president to issue an additional list of voter names to speed up the polling process. The committee president requested that MUSAWA intervene, but this request was politely turned down, because it was outside the scope of the monitoring officers' duties, resulting in a fight between the committee president and the objectors. Thus, instead of issuing another list, they have directed the executive staff overseeing the polling process to expedite the process.
– Some of the electoral lists’ representatives caused a commotion, which escalated into several altercations inside the polling station.
– Many voters were carrying mobile phones, as the executive staff only prohibited the entry of papers and bags, and this was especially apparent after 1 p.m.
– Poor organization of polling booths designated to select the Bar president and those designated to select the electoral lists, which confused voters about which papers and polling booths were used for which, resulting in time waste and overcrowding.
– One of the committee members treated a lawyer with a visual impairment who came to vote in an inhumane manner, raising his voice and signaling to the audience that this guy "cannot see" to justify why he was accompanying him to the polling booth. This indicates that the voting standards for people with disabilities are not being met (There is a need for a system similar to the voting system for illiterate individuals). It also points out to the lack of technical tools, such as the Braille system, that are required to enable people with disabilities to exercise their right to vote, as well as the need to adapt the polling station to the accessibility needs of people with disabilities
– There were no clear instructions to assist voters in reaching the polling station or indicating its entrance and exit, resulting in voter overcrowding in front of the two entryways.
– The slow entry of voters into the polling station caused severe overcrowding, prompting security personnel to intervene to resolve the situation.
– The committee president threatened to call the police several times on the electoral lists’ representatives.
– Adding 20 minutes to the polling period and publishing the extension on the Bar's website.
Third – The following were the most prominent violations during the counting process:
– Closing the ballot boxes and beginning the counting process without revealing the total number of voters.
– The Counting Board is unclear, which hampered the counting review and prolonged its time.
– The counting process revealed that the number of papers is one less than the number of voters.
– Long before the results were announced, one of the candidates posted photos and videos celebrating his victory.
While MUSAWA takes into considerartion that these are the first elections of the Sharia’ Bar Association, it reccommends that the elected council organize awareness-raising workshops regarding the laws and election procedures, formation mechanisms of the central elections committee, its membership conditions, formation of the executive staff overseeing the polling process, the rights and duties of the candidates and the electoral lists’ representatives, rights and duties of the monitors, authority and jurisdiction of the central elections committee, accountability mechanisms and the penalties of violating the elections regulations, such as: The continuation of the electoral campaign during the electoral silence and the polling process, the electoral lists’ representatives overstepping their rights, and committee members exceeding their, authorities, in a manner that implements the necessary measures to ensure that the electoral process is successful and fair, which indicates the integrity of the elections and the credibility of their results.
The electoral process was marred by irregularities and violations, which, while certainly deserving of attention, did not affect the results. MUSAWA hopes that the elected council will stand by its report and adopt its recommendations, adhering to the principle of the rule of law and the periodicity and transparency of elections, while defining the electoral system, its justifications and support, and putting it up for dialogue again before the Bar's general assembly, especially since these elections followed the system of proportional representation without clarifying the mechanism it adopted for distributing council seats (Such as Sainte-Laguë method in proportional representation adopted by some electoral systems).