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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Arafat's Party Sweeps First Palestinian Election

JERUSALEM -- Yasser Arafat's coattails were long enough to sweep a solid majority of candidates from his Fatah political movement into the first-ever elected Palestinian self-governing council, partial returns showed Sunday.


As results trickled in throughout the day from Saturday's vote, a clear pattern emerged of Fatah's slates of candidates doing well in virtually every district of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel Television predicted Sunday night that Fatah slate candidates, and independents identified with Fatah, will hold 65 of the legislative council's 88 seats. With all the presidential ballots except Jerusalem's counted, Arafat garnered 88.1 percent of the votes and his only rival, 72-year-old social worker Samiha Khalil, got 9.3 percent of the vote.


The high voter turnout, strong showing for Fatah and his own ringing endorsement from the voters have transformed Arafat from guerrilla-leader-cum-strongman to a democratically elected leader with a mandate from his voters for his peacemaking efforts with Israel, Palestinian and Israeli analysts agreed.


"The high turnout, particularly in Gaza, which is a stronghold of the Islamic Hamas movement, reaffirmed the marginalization of Hamas and the other traditional opposition parties in Palestinian politics," said pollster Khalil Shikaki.


Israeli commentators predicted Sunday that Arafat will be a tougher negotiator now as he and Israel prepare for May talks on the core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But they also predicted that Arafat will feel he can more aggressively combat terrorism and move forward on the peace talks.


Only in Bethlehem did Fatah stumble badly. Not a single candidate on the faction's slate was elected in the town.


Even more important for Arafat, candidates who returned to the territories after Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization signed their 1993 peace accord made a strong showing. Arafat had hoped to see the longtime activists acknowledged by voters.


In Jerusalem, Ahmed Korei, one of the architects of the Israeli-PLO accord, appeared to have secured one of the seven district seats.


Hanan Mikhail-Ashrawi, the Fatah loyalist who ran as an independent in Jerusalem, appeared to have been the highest vote-getter in the district, according to partial results. The fiery Ashrawi -- who has clashed with Arafat over terms of the accord and human rights -- served as spokeswoman for the Palestinian peace delegation to the 1991 Mideast peace conference in Madrid.


By early evening, election officials were able to declare that the voter turnout had been 74 percent in the West Bank and 85 percent in the Gaza Strip. In some Gaza districts, turnout was as high as 90 percent.


The more than 600 international observers in the territories for the vote said they visited 99 percent of the polling stations and found few irregularities. "The elections for both the council and the president of the Palestinian Authority ... can reasonably be regarded as an accurate expression of the will of the voters on polling day," the observers said in a joint statement issued Sunday afternoon.


But their endorsement sounded restrained compared to the reviews Prime Minister Shimon Peres and some Israeli editorial writers offered Sunday.


Peres, convening the regular weekly meeting of his Cabinet, said that Arafat has shown leadership capability and has proved he is able to run a successful democracy. Peres called Arafat on Saturday night to congratulate him on his victory.