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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Campaign Fever Heats Up Gaza

GAZA -- Candidates' posters covered up old anti-Israeli graffiti in self-ruled Gaza and the West Bank as the Palestinian election campaign went into full swing Wednesday.

Young men who once risked their lives at night daubing slogans against Israeli occupiers now put up posters for a fee from some of the 700 Palestinians running in the Jan. 20 poll.

The Palestinian Central Election Commission on Tuesday officially gave its permission to candidates to begin campaigning for seats on the 88-member legislative council. But preparations for the campaign had begun earlier.

"This is the first legislative election in the history of the Palestinian people and there is a great deal of interest in it," said Usama Abu Safiyeh, general coordinator of the Palestinian Election Commission in Gaza.

"People pin much hopes on this election to realize their dream," he said. Under an Israeli-PLO self-rule deal signed last September, Palestinians will choose the council and head of its executive branch, who will pick most of the cabinet from within the council.

At least 12 political parties and scores of businessmen, lawyers, academics and doctors are competing in the election.

Some candidates are running highly organized Western-style campaigns with well-staffed offices.

In posters, newspaper announcements and banners slung across streets, candidates highlight their personal struggle against Israeli rule. They also cite administrative expertise and family relations to drum up support.

Most candidates promise clean government, strong leadership and a firm stand in future negotiations with Israel on the final status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, due to begin in May.

Most candidates also promise to help free Palestinian prisoners still held by Israel, ensure that Jerusalem reverts to Palestinian sovereignty and improve living conditions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

"I intend to turn every case up for discussion into an Islamic issue and to present Islam's view towards it," said Imad al-Falouji, a former activist in the Hamas Islamic group who is running as an independent candidate.

Rawiyeh al-Shawwa, a columnist and writer who is also competing as an independent candidate in Gaza said: "My election program is my writings."

The election commission had allocated public facilities in each city, including school playgrounds and clubs for candidates to meet their constituencies.

Some candidates invite potential voters to feasts at homes and local newspapers have poked fun at the banquets with sarcastic cartoons.

Other candidates make public donations to charities and social and athletic clubs.

One candidate in the West Bank city of Nablus rented a coffee shop for the duration of the election campaign, treating customers to free coffee.

The election fever has bolstered business for a number of professions catering to the campaign. Ad agencies, newspapers, calligraphers and print shops are doing brisk business.