The ruling Palestinian Fatah party on Monday chose former premier Mahmoud Abbas as its candidate to replace the late president Yasser Arafat as head of the Palestinian Authority in Jan. 9 elections, a Palestinian official said.
Abbas, 69, Arafat's longtime deputy as head of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), has already been named head of the PLO. If elected president of the Palestinian Authority, he would inherit two of Arafat's main titles. Arafat died on Nov. 11.
Abbas served as Arafat's first prime minister last year. However, he resigned after just four months in power, frustrated with Israeli policy and Arafat's refusal to grant him real power.
However, Abbas faces challenges from a growing list of candidates. Among the most serious figures considering a run is Marwan Barghouti, the West Bank Fatah leader serving five life terms in an Israeli prison after a conviction in Palestinian attacks that killed five people.
The Fatah Central Committee, the movement's main decision-making body, picked Abbas as its nominee at a meeting in Ramallah late Monday, said Intissar al-Wazir, a member of the body. Members said all 13 delegates present voted for Abbas.
Another Fatah body must approve the decision, but members said that was all but automatic.
Barghouti demands a primary election among Fatah members to choose the candidate.
Barghouti's wife, Fadwa, said after the decision that her husband would decide at the end of the month whether to run, but efforts were starting now to gather 5,000 signatures to enter his candidacy.