Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Palestinian's election

Palestinians are voting in their first parliamentary election for a decade, with the governing Fatah party facing a strong challenge.

In 1996 Fatah, the faction at the heart of the PLO that was created and led by Yasser Arafat, won an overwhelming victory in the first elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council. The difference then was that Hamas, the Islamist movement, did not stand. This time it is contesting the elections, and opinion polls put it neck and neck with Fatah.

Palestinians want a change. There is not much about their lives that is changeable - after all, they have lived under an Israeli military occupation since 1967 - but 10 years after they first elected a legislature they are voting again, and all the signs are that they want their votes to count.

Part of the reason why Hamas is popular is what Palestinians call the "armed struggle" against Israel. But the main reasons why they want to vote for it lie in the failure over the last 10 years of Fatah - and that includes Arafat and his successor Mahmoud Abbas - to create efficient, honest and strong government. Years of corruption have been made even worse by the increasing lawlessness on the streets of Gaza and parts of the West Bank. Hamas is seen as honest and efficient. Palestinians who once believed that supporting Fatah was a national duty are in the modd to teach it a lesson.

If Palestinians vote in numbers for Hamas, it will have a new, stronger, different kind of legitimacy. It will be harder than ever to ignore. The entry of Hamas in democratic politics creates many new questions in a region that was already full of them: secular Palestinians - and Christians - are nervous about its Islamist agenda; Israelis will have to decide whether they want to talk to the Palestinian Authority if it includes an organisation that has killed hundreds of its civilians; moreover, a strong showing by Hamas could push Israelis to the right when they vote in their general election in March; the US and the EU have both condemned Hamas as a terrorist group and they will need to respond if Hamas leaders join the Palestinian cabinet.

Challenges and dangers always lie ahead in the Middle East. But there could be some new opportunities as well. Polls are set to close at 6.00pm (CET).


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