Thursday, January 26, 2006

Hamas claims majority, no official vote count yet

The morning news was dramatically different from last night's take on the Palestinian Legislative Council elections. Hamas has claimed a majority of seats, and the Fatah government has resigned, seemingly in agreement with that assessment of the vote.

However, no official count of votes has yet been released. A preliminary count is expected at 19:00 Ramallah time Thursday (11:00 CST). The Central Election Commission released this statement on its web site Thursday morning:

The Central Elections Commission refutes claims of having released the Preliminary results of the Palestinian Legislative Elections


The Central Elections Commission wishes to confirm that it has not yet released preliminary elections results. The CEC will officially declare the preliminary results at a press conference likely to be held tonight at 7 pm at its Media Center based at the Ramallah Cultural Palace.

The CEC emphasizes that it is not responsible for any results appearing in the media until after its own announcement of the results and confirms that it has not made any declarations of the results to any of the news media in this respect. The CEC is not associated in any way with statements made in the press or with the public opinion polls published by various parties.

In addition the CEC calls upon the media to regularly check its website for details relating to the results or to the details of its press conferences.

So this is a bit of a puzzle. Of course it is quite likely that both Hamas and Fatah have knowledge of the preliminary counts, so I doubt that we'll see a sudden reversal of this this result. Still... more data would be better and more transparent.

Exit pollsters were said to be puzzled at the discrepancy between their results and the claim of a Hamas majority (where have we heard this before?):

Pollsters stumped by Hamas victory

Palestinian pollsters were at a loss Thursday to explain their failure to predict the Islamic Hamas' resounding victory in legislative elections.

Exit polls on the night of the vote gave the ruling Fatah Party a slight victory, a finding that was dramatically reversed on Thursday when Fatah and Hamas leaders said Hamas had won a clear majority of the 132-seat legislature.

The discrepancy may have been due to a reluctance by some voters to admit to pollsters that they were abandoning the ruling party. The polling errors appeared especially glaring in district races, where smaller numbers of voters were surveyed.

That last sentence may be the most telling. The problem of estimating winners in multimember districts with from one to nine members (averaging 4.1) is a daunting problem for any exit poll, even ignoring any response bias problems. (This point was cogently made by Matthew Shugart last night (in advance!). See his comments at Fruits and Votes here.) We'll need the district level vote data to know how close these district races were-- my guess is that many were way too close to possibly be called by an exit poll at the district level (where the margin of error would be quite substantial.) But until the CEC releases the preliminary counts, we can't do more than speculate about this. (Plus we don't have access to exit poll results at the district level, at least not yet.)

What will be telling is if the exit polls estimates of the party list shares for Hamas and Fatah were close to right but the district level results were poorly estimated. That might also reflect a political reality about candidate selection. Journalist Khaled Abu Toameh has written in the Jerusalem Post that Hamas did a much better job of candidate selection for the district slates-- recruiting respected professionals from the communities, while Fatah's slate was less appealing. If true, that could have produced a shift in results between the party list and the district outcomes. The evidence for that would be better performance by Hamas in the district votes than in the national list in the same district. That data should be available when the preliminary data are released in the next few hours (if the CEC's tentative release time is correct.)

So no graphs on this post, but many more to come as the data arrive. (With some delay on my part for a visit to the dentist!)

And of course there is the tremendous political difficulty for Israel, the US and the EU in dealing with a Hamas government. There will be tremendous pressure for each of these to deal with a democratically elected government, regardless of its origins. It is also a time for decision by Hamas as to what its governmental role will be. Without a minority or a coalition position, a Hamas government will have to take full responsibility for its policy and position vis a vis Israel. An opportunity and a risk for all the players.