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Middle East: Palestinians To Elect Successor To Arafat In January

The Palestinian leadership has decided to hold a presidential election on January 9 to replace late leader Yasser Arafat, who died last week in Paris. Contenders are expected to submit their candidacies this month. The Palestinians fear any delay in electing a successor to the veteran leader may lead to chaos and anarchy. One of the likely candidates for presidency, Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, was involved in a shooting incident yesterday in which two people were killed.

Prague, 15 November 2004 (RFE/RL) – Following Yasser Arafat’s death on 11 November, parliamentary speaker Rawhi Fattuh was sworn in as interim leader of the Palestinian National Authority.

But the Palestinian leadership has made the organization of new elections a top priority, if only to avoid violence and internecine fighting.

Addressing reporters in Ramallah yesterday, Fattuh said the election campaign will start as soon as the 40-day mourning period decreed after Arafat’s death ends.
The Palestinian leadership has made the organization of new elections a top priority, if only to avoid violence and internecine fighting.

"The elections for the president of the National Palestinian Authority will take place on 9 January 2005. The [central] election commission will start the complementary registration for those Palestinian voters who could not register during the period that has been set for them. Candidates are invited to submit their candidacy starting from 20 November for a period of 12 days. The election campaign will begin on Monday, 27 December through Saturday morning, 8 January," Fattuh said.

Long-awaited presidential, legislative, and municipal polls had been due to take place next year. But Arafat’s death has forced the Central Election Commission to bring the presidential election forward.

Israel reacted positively to the announcement.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said today that the Israeli cabinet was ready for dialogue with any “responsible and legitimate Palestinian leadership” that would be “open to peaceful existence” and committed to “fight terrorism.”

Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Abbas -- also known by his nom de guerre of Abu Mazen -- escaped unscathed yesterday from a shooting incident at a gathering in Gaza City.

Abbas was greeting people who had come to mourn the deceased Palestinian leader when firefight broke out between his bodyguards and gunmen reportedly accusing him of being an “agent of the United States.”

Two members of the Palestinian security services were killed and at least four other people were wounded in the incident.

Former cabinet Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said the attack was not politically motivated. He also denied the incident could mark internecine struggle among the Palestinian leadership.

"There was a friction between a few people in the hall where thousands were gathering in order to receive [PLO] President Abu Mazen," Rabbo said. "Due to this friction there was some exchange of shooting. This shooting was not directed against Abu Mazen or any of the leadership."

Yet other Palestinian officials hold different views on the incident.

Palestinian chief negotiator with Israel, Saeb Erekat, expressed concerns today at what he described as a “shameful incident,” saying it showed the urgent need for a new elected leader.

The 69-year-old Abbas is considered a likely candidate for president.

Another potential candidate is Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, who was confirmed as head of the Palestinian National Security Council yesterday.

Both Abbas and Qureia are veteran Palestinian leaders.

But regional analysts point out that both men lack popular support, as opposed to other -- generally younger -- leaders who have come to age in the Palestinian territories under Israeli occupation.

Experts also believe any infighting might profit such radical groups as Hamas or Islamic Jihad, which, during Arafat’s tenure, avoided attacking the Palestinian “old guard” directly. But with the veteran leader now out, things might quickly change.