01/24/2006, 00.00
Palestine
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Unknown factors in Palestinian elections (an overview)

Ramallah (AsiaNews) – At least 1.34 million Palestinians from the occupied territories, Gaza and east Jerusalem will go to the polls tomorrow to vote in the second round of elections to the 132 member parliament.   Observers are forecasting that at least 85% of the population eligible to vote will turn out to cast their ballot.  Until now, power has remained firmly in the grasp of the ruling Fatah party, the political movement linked to the Palestinian Liberation Organisation.  But for the first time the fundamentalist Hamas movement, responsible for numerous terrorist attacks on Israel, is also represented.

The entrance of the radical Islamic group risks undoing Palestinian politics and destroying the future prospects of dialogue with Israel.

The latest poll carried out by An-Najah university in the West Bank indicates that Fatah is ahead on 43%, while Hamas is on 34%. Others, such as Khalil Shikaki, a Palestinian survey expert, suggest the margin is inferior, giving Fatah 47% and Hamas il 42%. Last month, in some local elections, Hamas took 73% of the vote.

Hundreds of international observers – among whom ex us president Jimmy Carter – will verify that elections are free and fair.

Security operations to ensure the protection of polling stations are in place since yesterday evening. Residents of east Jerusalem, under Israeli occupation, will be able to vote in some post offices.

Hamas participation, - ten years ago the group boycotted parliamentary elections - and the promise made by the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade not to carry out violent attacks, nurture hopes that the voting process will be carried out peacefully.

The problem remains, however, the future.  Israel attempted to block Hamas participation in the elections and is hostile towards future dialogue with an organisation defined as "terrorist". Other analysts however think that the entrance of Hamas into the democratic process indicate san evolution within the group itself.  Many Palestinians see in it a real alternative to Fatah, branded as being corrupt and incompetent in bringing security to the Territories.  

Hamas, instead, is considered  incorruptible and to have greater success in its dealings with Israel.  Esteem for Hamas has grown considerably also thanks to a capillary network of  aid that the movement offers, such as health services, education and pensions funds.

The Palestinian economy is on it's knees,  aggravated by the second Intifada.  According to the United Nations more than 30% of Palestinians are unemployed and at least 64% of them live in abject poverty.

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