On 20 January 1996, elections were held for the presidency of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) as well as for members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), the Parliament of the nascent Palestinian State. The Palestinian opposition factions boycotted this election, among them Hamas, which was radically opposed to the Oslo Accords and officially still advocated armed struggle ‘to liberate Palestine’. Arafat won the elections for the presidency by a landslide: 88.2 percent of the votes against 11.5 percent for his only rival, Samiha Khalil (a long time activist in the West Bank and member of the Palestinian National Council, the legislative arm of the PLO, until her death in 1999). After Arafat’s death in November 2004, new elections were organized for the presidency of the PNA on 9 January 2005. Mahmoud Abbas won the majority of the votes and became President on 15 January 2005. (See for more in depth information New leadership in Occupied Palestinian Territories)
The first elections for the PLC were held also on 20 January 1996. The Palestine National Liberation Movement, or Fatah, the party led by Arafat, won by a landslide: 55 of the 88 seats. In the next elections for the PLC, in January 2006, the results were quite different. Fatah’s rival Hamas won 44.45 percent of the vote, gaining a total of 74 seats in the 132 seat Council, of which 29 seats accosrding to the system of proportional representation and no less than 45 in constituencies. With 41.43 percent of the votes Fatah reaped 45 seats: 25 under the proportional system and 17 in the constituencies. Four small parties together won 9 seats under the proportional system, and four independent candidates secured their seats in constituencies. Until that time, half of the members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (the ‘parliament’ of the nascent nation-state) were elected under a system of proportional representation and half by constituencies, a system also known as ‘first past the post’. The number of members of the PLC was initially established at 88, but from June 2005 on the Council comprises 132 seats.
In September 2007, Abbas changed the Elections Law by decree. The most important change was that in future the elections for the PLC would be held under ‘a complete proportional representation system, which treats the whole of Palestine as one electoral constituency’. Abbas acted under the provision in the Palestinian Basic Law that the President has ‘the right, in cases of necessity that cannot be delayed, and when the Legislative Council is not in session, to issue decrees that have the power of law’. At that time the Legislative Council was not in session as a consequence of the conflict that had broken out between Hamas en Fatah.
In the elections of 2006, Ismail Haniyeh had headed the list of Hamas (under the name Change and Reform). He was appointed Prime Minister by President Abbas in March 2006. On 14 June 2007, Abbas dismissed Haniyeh after a failed coup d’état by Fatah, which was followed by the complete take-over of power by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
This sharp conflict brought on a paralysis of the functioning of the Palestinian institutions. Abbas appointed Salam Fayyad as Prime Minister, previously the Minister of Finance. But the PLC, with its Hamas majority, did not approve this appointment and still recognized Haniyeh as Prime Minister. Due to the conflict, the sessions of the PLC and new elections for the Presidency (in 2009) and the PLC (in 2010) seem to be on a hold indefinitely.
On 3 May 2011, as part of the Arab Spring, Fatah and Hamas signed an agreement to end their long drawn-out conflict. The agreement provides that elections will be held in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for the PLC, and PNA, as well as the presidency of the PNA. These elections will take place precisely one year after the signing of the agreement.