Wed, Jan 04, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Campaigning starts ahead of Palestinian poll

AFP , RAMALLAH, WEST BANK

Campaigning began yesterday for only the second Palestinian parliamentary election, with factions staging launch rallies despite major question marks hanging over whether the vote will take place.

The Fatah movement, which has governed the Palestinian Authority over the past decade, will try to put behind it all internal divisions at the launch of their campaign by the tomb of the late patriarch Yasser Arafat in Ramallah.

While Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas is on a tour of the Gulf states, deputy prime minister and Fatah campaign manager Nabil Shaath was expected to address supporters and many of the party's candidates running for office on Jan. 25 before holding a 1pm press conference yesterday.

While Fatah was to kick off its campaign in the West Bank, its chief rivals from Hamas were planning their own launch in their Gaza Strip stronghold.

Ismail Haniya, who tops the Islamists' list of candidates, was expected to address supporters outside the home of the movement's late founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin who was assassinated in an Israeli air strike nearly two years ago.

Hamas, buoyed by its strong showing in recent municipal elections, is fielding parliamentary candidates for the first time after boycotting the only previous elections a decade ago.

It is expected to campaign heavily on an anti-graft ticket, taking advantage of the widespread disillusionment among voters over the corruption and incompetence of the current Palestinian Authority.

Abbas's failure to assert control has been starkly illustrated in recent months in Gaza where gunmen now operate above the law and kidnappings are increasingly common.

Dozens of EU monitors have arrived in the major towns to oversee the vote but say they will be making hourly assessments over the security situation.

Four Europeans have been kidnapped in the past week in Gaza and the kidnappers of three Britons, who were released unharmed, have specifically threatened to abduct EU monitors unless a raft of demands, including that voting can take place in east Jerusalem, is met.

Having initially said that the Palestinian residents of occupied east Jerusalem will not be able to cast ballots, Israeli officials, under pressure from the US, have now said they will "contemplate" allowing voting.

Abbas has said that he will call the whole election off if the residents of east Jerusalem are denied the chance to take part in the democratic process.

"If [east Jerusalem] is not included, [Palestinian] factions are unanimous that there will be no election," he told Al-Jazeera television on a visit to Doha.

Other senior Fatah members, such as outgoing prime minister Ahmed Qureia, have already demanded that the elections be shelved because of the security chaos and uncertainty over the situation in Jerusalem.

Such demands partly reflect a bitterness among the Fatah old guard over the line-up of candidates which is headed by the jailed intifada leader Marwan Barghuti.

Divisions between the traditional leadership and the younger followers of Barghuti led at one stage to two separate lists being submitted. The party has since agreed on a single line-up but the splits have already done damage in the polls.

A poll three weeks ago gave Fatah a 17-point lead over Hamas but in a survey published on Sunday, the gap had narrowed to 10 percent.

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