Carter Center: Palestinian Municipal Elections Well-Administered, Steps Urgently Needed to Facilitate National Polls


Palestinians living in large cities in the West Bank went to the polls on March 26 in a peaceful and well-administered exercise to elect municipal councils. A Carter Center election expert mission found that virtually all the major cities in the West Bank experienced competitive electoral contests, notwithstanding a formal boycott by Hamas and a highly challenging political and electoral environment, marked by frequent human rights violations, including intimidation and harassment of political actors.

While the administrative framework supports the conduct of genuine elections, more must be done to ensure respect for Palestinian human rights. The Carter Center urges Palestinian leaders to take immediate steps to create the conditions necessary for citizens in the West Bank and Gaza to fully exercise their fundamental freedoms, including their political and electoral rights. Palestinians should enjoy the right to choose their leaders in regular, periodic national elections, absent harassment or intimidation, and to speak and assemble freely without fear of retribution, whether from Israelis, Palestinian security forces, or other political actors.

The March 26 polls were the second phase of municipal elections and were administered in West Bank cities with populations of more than 15,000; a first phase was conducted on Dec. 11, 2021, in small towns and villages. The municipal elections were scheduled following the last-minute cancellation of national elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council and presidency in May 2021. They provided West Bank Palestinians an opportunity to select local council officials. However, Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, prevented the occurrence of municipal elections there.

In July 2021, shortly after the cancellation of the national elections, The Carter Center issued a statement strongly criticizing their indefinite postponement and proposing a series of steps to promote the conduct of credible polls that would renew the democratic mandate of Palestinian elected officials and help ensure that elected officials represent Palestinians’ current needs and wants. Such elections are particularly important because at least 40 percent of the voting-eligible population was too young to participate in the last national elections, held in 2006. Even though little progress has been made to facilitate national elections, The Carter Center deployed an election expert mission to assess the municipal races.

The expert mission was duly accredited by the Central Election Commission (CEC). Its threefold mandate was to assess: a) the legal and administrative framework for the municipal elections; b) the degree of political engagement, competition, and respect for the participatory rights of voters and candidates in the process, including in the online environment; and c) the implications of these elections for future Palestinian electoral exercises. During its March 14 to April 7 deployment, a four-person team met with individuals and groups in the West Bank and Gaza, speaking with CEC members and senior staff, Palestinian Authority officials, candidates from various lists, representatives of leading Palestinian civil society organizations — including those monitoring human rights and the electoral process — various analysts of Palestinian affairs, and members of the international community.

The team will soon issue a full report that assesses the electoral environment, legal framework, online environment, political space, and dynamics of democratic participation in West Bank and Gaza. In the spirit of support for strengthening democratic participation among Palestinians, the report will offer recommendations to improve future processes.

Like previous West Bank municipal elections, the 2021-2022 polls took place in a challenging political environment, including the continued Israeli occupation, the longstanding political impasse between the two leading Palestinian political movements (Fatah and Hamas), and the continued erosion of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in both the West Bank and Gaza.

This round of elections was conducted in 50 municipalities, with 234 lists and 2,306 candidates competing for seats. During a two-week formal campaign period, candidates for the local councils solicited the support of voters through posters, public debates, and social media. Nonetheless, restrictive legal provisions on freedoms of expression and assembly, the impact of the Nizar Banat case, the arrests of various candidates by Israeli authorities, and the fears caused by a repressive political environment cast a shadow over a technically well-administered electoral process and hindered the full expression of citizens’ rights.

According to the CEC, turnout in this phase was 53.8 percent, and 64.4 percent of the council seats were won by candidates associated with independent lists — although several candidates on these lists were informally associated with existing parties. A quota system ensured that women make up 18 percent of the seats in the new councils. Following the CEC announcement of the final results, each local council will begin the process of selecting a mayor and formally operating under the auspices of the Ministry of Local Government.

According to the Carter Center’s expert mission, Palestinian interlocutors expressed hope that the elections would lay the groundwork for much-anticipated national elections or a third phase of municipal elections in the Gaza Strip. Many, however, voiced skepticism about the political will to make this happen and said they were hard-pressed to envision a scenario that allows for a credible, democratically elected government to reassert control over the Palestinian Authority in the near future. While acknowledging that the recent polls provided West Bank Palestinians an important opportunity to reinvigorate municipal council leadership, candidates and voters alike expressed doubt that municipal elections will mark the beginning of a more consistent affirmation of democratic rights.

Virtually all Palestinian stakeholders agree that reconciliation between the major parties, Fatah and Hamas, is essential. Ultimately, Palestinian political leaders must decide whether elections will serve as the mechanism for achieving this goal, or whether some form of reconciliation must occur for national elections to be meaningful.

Several stakeholders suggested that scheduling municipal elections in Gaza could serve as a confidence-building measure and would allow the population there to participate in an electoral exercise for the first time since 2006. The CEC and other institutions should be ready to administer such elections on short notice, even as they also prepare for the much-anticipated national elections.

The Carter Center calls on international actors to respect the fundamental rights of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to choose their national leaders and to help promote a renewal of democratic governance in the Palestinian Territories.


مركز كارتر: تمت إدارة الانتخابات البلدية الفلسطينية بشكل جيد، وهناك حاجة ماسة إلى خطوات لتسهيل إجراء انتخابات عامة

Contact: In Atlanta, Soyia Ellison,
In Ramallah, Qais Asád,

Waging Peace. Fighting Disease. Building Hope.
A not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization, The Carter Center has helped to improve life for people in over 80 countries by resolving conflicts; advancing democracy, human rights, and economic opportunity; preventing diseases; and improving mental health care. The Carter Center was founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, in partnership with Emory University, to advance peace and health worldwide.