RAMALLAH, West Bank, (Reuters) – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Sunday he had changed Palestinian electoral rules in a step that could make it harder for Hamas to keep the parliamentary majority it won last year.
Abbas said he had issued a new election law which would change the way Palestinians vote in any upcoming parliamentary elections, boosting his Fatah faction, which is dominant in the West Bank against rival Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.
Abbas sacked a Hamas-led government and appointed a Western-backed administration in the West Bank after Hamas routed his secular Fatah forces in Gaza in June.
Palestinian officials have said Abbas’s advisers are looking at options for holding new elections that could remove Hamas from power, although Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said last month early elections were not feasible at this time given the political situation in the West Bank and Gaza.
Abbas said under the new law, Palestinians would vote based on national party lists instead of voting both on a national and local level — a step that could hurt Hamas, which trounced Fatah in the local vote in 2006 elections. “The law we have issued was simply to amend the election (process), whereby it will be based only on nationwide party lists instead of contesting polls by two lists,” Abbas told reporters in his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Hamas secured twice as many local seats as Fatah in January 2006 parliamentary elections but only narrowly beat its rival in the national vote.
Hamas has said it would be unconstitutional for Abbas to call early parliamentary and presidential elections and has threatened to block any election effort.
Some legal experts, including the main authors of the interim Palestinian constitution, have disputed Abbas’ right to call early elections and amend laws by decree.
Senior Palestinian officials said the electoral rules had also been amended to bar candidates from participating unless they accept Palestinian law and previous agreements between the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Israel.
The long dominant Fatah faction of the PLO, led by Yasser Arafat until his death in 2004, recognised Israel and dropped its commitment to “armed struggle” on signing interim peace accords with Israel in 1993. Hamas has refused to renounce violence and recognise Istael’s right to exist.
According to a copy of the amended election law, candidates must be “committed to the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) as it is the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people…and to the Basic Law.”
The Palestinian Basic Law serves as an interim constitution.
Hamas’ spokesman in Gaza, Fawzi Barhoum, rejected the new election rules and accused Abbas of serving U.S. and Israeli interests.