Mon, Nov 08, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Successor to Yasser Arafat will `likely' not be elected

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , RAMALLAH, WEST BANK

Palestinian law requires an election for a successor if President Yasser Arafat dies or cannot serve, but in the turmoil since he fell gravely ill, many questions have risen about how a successor would be chosen.

The law says that if Arafat dies or can no longer serve as president of the governing Palestinian Authority, the speaker of parliament becomes the caretaker leader of the Palestinian Authority and elections must be held within two months.

But some experts believe that the Palestinian leadership will ignore the law and appoint a leader.

Mokhaimer Abusada, a political science professor at Al Azhar University in Gaza City, said he thought it unlikely that the current speaker -- Rawhi Fattouh, who is little known among Palestinians and has no political base -- would be allowed to assume the leadership position, even for a brief period.

There are also many obstacles to elections, he said, citing the web of restrictions facing Palestinians because of the Israeli military presence in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. With Arafat so ill in a French hospital, Palestinian leaders are emphasizing national unity, he said, and focusing on handling routine affairs, not organizing elections.

"I agree that the next president should be the people's choice," Abusada said. "But I don't think the situation on the ground is conducive to elections."

The most likely successors as president are Mahmoud Abbas, the former prime minister and Arafat's deputy in the PLO, and Ahmed Qureia, the current prime minister. Elections would not fill Arafat's posts as leader of Fatah and the PLO.

On Saturday, Qureia made a rare trip from the West Bank to Gaza City to run a meeting of Palestinian factions and the security forces. The emphasis was on cooperation among the various factions in Gaza, the scene of internal Palestinian fighting in recent months.

One possibility raised in recent days is for a collective leadership to run Palestinian affairs for a transitional period, with elections at a later date.

The Arab world has little in the way of a tradition of competitive elections, but many Palestinians aspire to create one. In 1996, in the face of token opposition, Arafat overwhelmingly won the Palestinians' first and only presidential election, and his Fatah movement dominated the parliamentary polls.

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