In the framework of AMAN’s efforts to promote integrity, transparency, and accountability in the electoral process, and in preparation for the legal and institutional reform on control over electoral funding, AMAN held a workshop to discuss the draft study prepared in partnership with the Central Election Commission (CEC) within the framework of the partnership project with civil society organization funded by the European Union. The study puts forth proposed interventions for monitoring and control of political campaign funding in line with the Palestinian specificity. In addition, the discussion will include a draft code of conduct that has been prepared for political parties, factions and representatives of electoral lists. The code includes a set of behavioral rules governing funding of the electoral process, to be signed upon agreement by representatives of the various electoral blocs and parties.
The session began by Dr. Azmi Shuaibi, Advisor of AMAN’s Board of Directors on corruption issues, pointing out that AMAN’s contribution to this study aimed at highlighting an important area of the electoral process, which is regulating funds and expenditures of the process. AMAN felt the need for this type of study due to the lack of sufficient foundations that define sources of funding and areas of spending for candidates. Based on this, he stressed the need for cooperation between all sides, including representatives of blocs and political parties, to develop substantial proposals to bridge this shortcoming.
Majdi Abu-Zeid, Executive Director of AMAN, said that the entire world focuses on this issue due to its importance. He further stressed that what is intended today is not only to be applied during the local electoral process, but on all future electoral processes since preparing a special system requires some time.
Tunisian Expert, Lutfi Belal, a Law Professor at Al-Manar University inTunis, stated that the need for control over electoral processes’ funding has become very important due to the large amount of money it requires; contrary to what was needed few years ago. He also indicated that the Palestinian law prohibits foreign funding for general elections as a source of financing, but does not stipulate that for local elections. Moreover, the law does not specify a spending cap for local elections, while it does for general elections where the ceiling for spending is set not to exceed one million American dollars or its equivalence in local currency.
Belal recommended that a document be prepared stipulating general principles to govern and regulate funding of electoral campaigns such as: the principle of transparency of campaign funding sources; methods of spending financial resources allocated for the campaign; the principle of equality and equal opportunities for candidates; neutrality of the executive authority, and the principle of sound spending of public funds. He also pointed out that Palestinian legislations did not clearly define electoral spending, as well as it did not prevent the use of commercial Ads (political publicity). It also did not specify procedures for funding and spending on electoral campaigns that ensure transparency and control during and after the campaigns are over.
Fateh representative, Mohammad Namourah confirmed his movement’s readiness to comply with what is agreed and signed with other factions. He said that it is vital for state institutions and agencies to remain neutral in all that relates to the electoral process.
Ayman Daraghmeh, a parliament member, requested that application of the Anti-Money Laundering Law be reconsidered. He also pointed out that the law prohibits certain parties and factions to receive funding where it is sometimes confiscated under this law. He recommended that security agencies should be officially forbidden from intervening in the electoral process, in the West Bank and Gaza.
Saleh Ra’fat, Fida-Deputy Secretary-General, agreed with Daraghmeh in regard to security agencies, in the West Bank and Gaza. He said that these agencies are sometimes recruited to work in the interest of either side of the internal division (i.e., Fateh or Hamas) who are participating in the elections. He called on both parties to comply by the code of conduct and put aside differences. He further expressed that both parties should refrain from interventions that coerce candidates to withdraw from lists at the last moment.
Representative of the Democratic Coalition Bloc, Kamel Jbail, emphasized the importance of the legal aspect of the content of the study, highlighting the need to clearly defining areas of expenditure. He also reiterated the need for non-intervention of the security agencies.
Abd-Alhameed Abu Jiyab, representative of the Democratic Front, speaking through video-conference, recommended that a deeper discussion, to include civil society organizations, factions and political parties, take place concerning the subject of electoral funding, its resources, and limitations of spending.
Executive Director of the CEC, Hisham Kuheai, in his response to representatives of parties and factions concerning interventions by security agencies in the electoral process, said that it is important to submit official complaints against any intervention by any security agency in order for the CEC to to follow up and put a stop to it when needed. He said, as of now, the number of complaints received does not pose a serious threat to the electoral process.
It is worth noting that, both, the third paragraph from article 61 of the Law by Decision on general elections 2007, and article 26 of the Local Councils Election Law No. 10 for 2005, stipulate that the executive authority and all its apparatuses are obliged to remain neutral throughout the electoral process. However, this commitment remained general and was not interpreted to be applied to specific commitments of the executive authority in regard to campaign financing. Furthermore, no legal penalty was imposed for violating the principle of neutrality concerning supporters of the executive authority, or those who benefit from certain candidates and or electoral lists.
Naseef Al-Mu’alem, member of the civil committee for monitoring elections, called for monitoring and auditing of candidates’ actual expenditures, with the aim of preventing the use of electoral funds for private/personal interests. He further added that he does not encourage the idea of “general funding” because, if applied, it is inevitable that it would end up used in favor of the electoral process on account of the campaign.
For his part, Hilmi Al-‘Araj, Director of Hurriyat Center, said that it is important to include items dealing with electoral funding and advertising to the code of conduct. This is beneficial for future electoral processes such as the legislative and presidential elections, when and if conducted.
On the other hand, Yusri Darweesh, representative from the General Union of Cultural Centers, said that it is important to define the ceiling of expenditures for electoral lists, in agreement; also to define “foreign funding. He also said that it is necessary to provide a chance for popular control over the electoral process by CSOs and other activists.
Assistant Deputy General of the Judicial Higher Council, Judge As’ad Shunnar, said that the subject of discussion is very important due to its impact on agendas of candidates, which may be affected by electoral money, hence must be clean. Judge Shunnar emphasized the need to revise related laws in order to ensure the active role played by the CEC, and open the door for activating control over violations that might occur.
Relating to the same subject, Omar Rahhal, Director of Shams Center, recommended that: names of donors of the campaign be declared; a ceiling for the amount of donations from one family be limited to a specific amount; bank accounts not to be subject to banking secrecy; banning any person with a criminal record from donating money; activation of the role of CSOs in monitoring and control as well as submission of complains; establishing a special department within the CEC to be called “Electoral Funding Department”; enabling media personnel to review electoral expenditures and funding, and be trained to hold individuals accountable in this regard.
Aref Jaffal, Director of the Observatory of Arab Democracy and Elections, suggested that a special national commission be established to be in charge of all affairs relating to the electoral processes including spending and expenditures, in cooperation with the CEC. The commission should be a legal entity and enjoy the trust of all factions and candidates.
Finally, it is worth noting that the workshop was attended by a large number of related parties such as: the CEC, the Palestinian Monitory Fund, the Judicial Higher Council, the Palestinian Legislative Council, and the State Audit and Administrative Control Bureau. In addition, a number of CSOs such as Shams Center, the Palestinian Center for Peace and Democracy, MIFTAH, Arab Thought Forum, Defense of Freedom Center, Observatory of Arab Democracy and Elections, in addition to representatives from the various factions and political parties.