RAMALLAH, West Bank – Forty-six members of the Palestinian election commission, including top managers, resigned Saturday, saying they were pressured by Mahmoud Abbas’ campaign and intelligence officials to abruptly change voting procedures during the Jan. 9 presidential poll.
Two senior members of the commission, Ammar Dwaik and Baha al-Bakri, resigned early Saturday, and officials later said 44 more members resigned. Six top election officials were among those who resigned.
The resignations raised questions about Sunday’s vote giving Abbas an overwhelming victory with 62.3 percent, though the officials who quit said the alleged irregularities did not fundamentally affect the final vote tally.
“This proves that what happened is very serious and it must not happen again,” said Dwaik, the commission’s deputy chairman. “These pressures and threats lessened the degree of the integrity of the election, even though overall it was free and fair.”
Abbas was sworn in as Palestinian Authority president Saturday.
During the presidential election, polls were to have stayed open for 12 hours until 7 p.m. However, several hours after polls opened, turnout was light, a cause of concern for Abbas, who was the front-runner but needed a decisive victory to win a mandate for peace talks with Israel.
“We were visited by senior officials from Abu Mazen’s campaign, and we were pressured to change procedures on election day,” al-Bakri said. Abbas is widely known as Abu Mazen.
During the meeting, shots were fired at the panel’s headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Electoral officials said they recognized at least one gunman as a member of Palestinian intelligence services.
The commission eventually extended voting by two hours and allowed voters to cast their ballots in any location, not just their hometowns.
The change enabled thousands of security force members, most of them Abbas supporters, to cast ballots near their posts rather than travel back to their hometowns, some of them far away.
Dwaik and al-Bakri said Saturday those decisions were made under pressure from Abbas’ campaign, Fatah (news – web sites) and the intelligence service.
“I was personally threatened and pressured,” Dwaik said. “I am therefore announcing my resignation publicly, so that everyone knows that in the upcoming legislative election, this could happen again.”
Al-Bakri said voting hours are extended only when there are long lines at the polling stations.
“This was not the case on election day,” he said. “These (changes in) procedures had two goals: first to increase the turnout and second to increase the percentage of Fatah voters.”