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The Palestinian Political Situation

Exit poll shows Fatah as biggest winner in Palestinian elections

Voter turnout estimated at 77.6 percent

Lebanon Daily Star
January 26, 2006

An elderly Palestinian man shows his finger after voting at a polling station in the Khan Younis refugee camp south of Gaza Strip.
An elderly Palestinian man shows his finger after voting at a polling station in the Khan Younis refugee camp south of Gaza Strip January 25, 2006. (Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters)

Fatah emerged as the biggest party in Palestinian Parliament elections, but Hamas came in as a strong second, first projections showed, with voter turnout estimated at more than 75 percent.

The latest exit poll by Bir Zeit University showed Fatah Party took 46.4 percent of the vote, with Hamas winning 39.5 percent.

This would translate into 63 seats for Fatah and 58 for Hamas in the 132-seat Palestinian legislature, pollsters said. A total of 8,000 voters in 232 polling stations were surveyed for the exit poll, which had a one-seat margin of error.

An earlier exit poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Public Opinion gave Fatah 42 percent and Hamas 35 percent.

An exit poll by An-Najah university showed Fatah won more than 42 percent of the vote and Hamas more than 34 percent, based on a survey among 6,500 voters. A pollster said the Third Way, a party led by former Finance Minister Salam Fayyad, came in third.

Fatah said its figures gave it 42 percent of the vote while Hamas won 35 percent. But Hamas said its own figures showed it had received about 50 percent of the vote.

Palestinian election commission says unofficial results expected in 24 hours.

Amid tight security, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians queued flooded polling stations across the West Bank and Gaza Strip where they voted after their index fingers were daubed in blue ink to prevent fraud.

Militants under orders to avoid trouble on election day after weeks of armed chaos left their weapons outside.

Polling stations shut their doors at 7 p.m. in the West Bank and Gaza but voting was extended for two hours in occupied East Jerusalem.

Ahmad al-Dweik, director general of the Central Elections Commission, told a news conference in Ramallah that around 1,035,000 people had voted in the elections, representing 77.6 percent of the 1.35 million-strong electorate.

The turnout in the Gaza Strip reached 81.65 percent while the figure for the West Bank, which includes East Jerusalem, was 77.3 percent.

The United States reiterated Wednesday its refusal to deal with Hamas. "We do not deal with Hamas. Hamas is a terrorist organization. Under current circumstances I don't see any change in that," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

But Abbas said the PA was ready to resume long-stalled talks with Israel even if Hamas joined his government.

"We are always prepared [to negotiate]," he told reporters, saying the Israelis had "no right to choose their partners."

Abbas, speaking shortly after the elections ended, also called on the international community to help restart the talks.

Despite signals this week it might be open to indirect talks with Israel, Hamas reiterated a hard line on Wednesday, saying it would not change its charter or give up its weapons.

Both groups have said they would consider forming a coalition government after the poll.

Hamas, standing on an anti-corruption platform in its first run for Parliament, has gained popularity among Palestinians not only for its fight against Israel but for its charity work.

"We've reached the worst. The most important thing now is change," said Raed Abu Hamam, 35, a construction worker in Gaza's Beach camp who said he has lost faith in Fatah.

"The Palestinian Authority did nothing for us. People here have no jobs, while people in the PA got millions of dollars," said Ali Taha, 35, a laborer in the Amari refugee camp in Ramallah, who voted for Fatah anyway.

Only a few incidents marred the election, in which 1.4 million people in Gaza, the occupied West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem were eligible to vote for a 132-member Parliament.

Israeli police stopped small groups of Jewish ultra-nationalists marching toward two Palestinian polling stations in occupied East Jerusalem and made several arrests.

Twelve people were injured when Fatah and Hamas supporters scuffled near Hebron in the West Bank. In southern Gaza, police fired in the air to control an unruly crowd of voters.

Hamas waged a carefully planned get-out-the-vote campaign in Gaza, the group's main stronghold. Fatah activists went from door-to-door during the day, pressing their supporters to vote.

Voters chose from 11 party lists across the Palestinian areas and more than 400 candidates running locally in the first parliamentary elections since 1996. About 900 foreign observers, led by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, were present.

An international observer, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of a formal report on Thursday, said there had been isolated incidents but no pattern of violence. He said there had been widespread campaigning around polling stations, in violation of Palestinian electoral rules, but it did not appear to have hindered voting. - Agencies

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