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January 9, 2005
A Notable Lack Of Enthusiasm

The long-awaited elections in the West Bank and Gaza seem to have come a bit of a cropper. Despite the high hopes of many involved in the peace process, the Palestinians themselves have demonstrated a curious and disappointing lack of enthusiasm, with turnout so low that the polls were left open an additional two hours to get more votes:

Mahmoud Abbas, the candidate of Arafat's ruling Fatah movement, was expected to win easily. But he was struggling to capture a clear mandate to push forward with his agenda of resuming peace talks with Israel and reforming the corruption-riddled Palestinian Authority.

Palestinians initially said polls were being kept open another two hours because of heavy turnout. Subsequently, however, officials said the polls were being kept open to encourage turnout, which was only about 30 percent of 1.8 million eligible voters by noon local time (5 a.m. EST).

The poll extension came from Fatah, which worried that the low turnout would favor independent challenger Mustafa Barghouti. Fatah aims to ensure that the presidency remains within their control -- an ambition which may explain some of the low turnout. Hamas boycotted these elections, choosing instead to contest local elections.

So far, the low turnout has been accompanied by a promising lack of violence; only one incident has been reported, and that was resolved peacefully. Exit polling will be announced in the next couple of hours by international observers, which includes Jimmy Carter. Most expect Abbas to win election handily.

However, the low turnout does two things, neither of which are particularly positive. Any victory by Abbas now will be robbed of a mandate, with more than two-thirds of his people apathetic to his leadership. This apathy bodes ill for the establishment of a democratic state to live peacefully next to Israel. Compared to the strong Iraqi desire for elections (more than 85% plan on participating), the group shrug given by the Palestinians reveal this election to lack any precedent for their future rule.

Abbas may wind up elected president, but without any democratic urge from his people, he will simply become Arafat II if nothing else changes. The Palestinians appear complacent with corruption and comfortable with dictatorship. The Israelis cannot take much satisfaction in this development.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 9, 2005 12:13 PM

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» Mahmoud Abbas and Palestine from Pdq's Views
Much speculation surrounds Mahmoud Abbas and the future of the Israel-Palestine peace process. Most analysis focuses on whether or not Abbas will be able or willing to bring the Palestinians to the negotiating table. With Abbas' election today, his rel... [Read More]

Tracked on January 10, 2005 12:46 AM

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