Abbas Elected President of Palestinian Authority
(January 9, 2005)
As had been widely expected, PLO chief and Fatah candidate Mahmoud Abbas won the Palestinian Authority election handily over six challengers, thus succeeding the late Yasser Arafat as president of the Palestinian Authority.
Figures released by the Palestinian Central Election Committee showed that Abbas won slightly over 62% of the 775,146 ballots cast at some 2,800 polling stations throughout the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Extrapolated to a (conservatively) estimated 1.5 million eligible-voter population (that is, those above 18 years of age of 18), it would seem that Abbas got the backing of 33%. Fatah had hoped Abbas would win close to 70% of the votes, which then would give him a clear mandate to negotiate with Israel a possible final-status peace settlement.
Abbas' closest challenger, the independent centre-left candidate Mustafa Barghuthi, came in second with 19.8% of the total ballots cast. More than 5% of the voters backed the Islamist and quasi-Islamist candidates, and another roughly 7% cast blank or invalid ballots.
The election process went smoothly and despite Palestinian predictions of Israeli interference, international observers reported that Palestinians were not obstructed by Israel from participating in the election. In fact, Palestinian and Israeli officials were said to have worked well together to facilitate voting.
Immediately after the election, 46 officials from the PA Central Election Committee resigned, confirming suspicions of voting irregularities and fraud. The Committee had come under pressure from Abbas’ staff to extend the vote by an additional two hours and to allow non-registered voters to cast ballots to guarantee a larger turnout and improve Abbas’ chance of a “landslide” victory.
The day of the election, gunmen stormed the Committee offices to demand that Palestinians who were not registered be allowed to vote. The deputy chairman of the Committee, Ammar Dwaik, said he “was personally threatened and pressured” and confirmed that some voters were able to remove from their thumbs the ink that was supposed to prevent double voting.
Sources: Jerusalem Post, (January 10 & 16, 2005); CNN.com, (January 10, 2005); Aljazeera.Net, (January 11 & 15, 2005)