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January 10, 2005
The "Landslide" Of Abbas

The election victory of Mahmoud Abbas gets the "landslide" treatment in the world press this morning, despite low turnout and an election commission that changed the voting rules halfway through the day. At least the British newspaper Guardian acknowledges the problems with the election in its coverage:

Mahmoud Abbas last night won a landslide victory in the Palestinian presidential election and was today expected to outline his vision of a post-Yasser Arafat future. ...

Mr Barghouti praised the process as a victory for Palestinian democracy, although earlier he had complained that thousands had been unable to vote. The central election commission changed voting procedures midway through the election, keeping polling stations open an additional two hours and allowing voters to cast their ballots at any location, not just in their hometowns,

One election official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the changes came after heavy pressure from Mr Abbas's Fatah movement, which feared a low turnout could weaken him in victory.

The BBC could not bring itself to actually report the news from the West Bank, instead opting for sheer cheerleading. They also proclaim Abbas as the landslide winner. The Beeb goes even farther, claiming that heavy turnout caused a number of problems for the election commission:

Moderate Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has won a landslide victory in the Palestinian presidential election. Official results said Mr Abbas - also known as Abu Mazen - had won 62.3% of the vote. Turnout was reported to have been at least 66%. ...

Voting was reported to have been brisk, but there were problems with registration, heavy turnout and the turning away of hundreds of voters from a big Israeli-run polling station in East Jerusalem.

Some chaotic scenes were reported there.

Voters complained that Israeli officials were not allowing them to vote even though the Palestinian central election commission had properly registered them.

Not a word about changing election rules in the middle of the day, rule changes that seem likely to have generated a significant amount of fraud. Allowing voters to cast ballots at any precinct means that no quality control can be exercised over repeat voting, inelegible voters, and so on. That matters not to Fatah, which needed Abbas to get a lot of votes to maintain their grip on the Palestinian Authority. Fortunately, they have the BBC on their side.

Not that the American media improved much on the independence of their reporting. CNN avoids the use of the word "landslide" but only notes part of the rule change:

Election officials reported about 65 percent turnout among the 1.8 million voters. Earlier they had reported only about 35 percent, and extended the voting by two hours.

Now that sounds pretty suspicious to me. They only got one-third of eligible voters to the polls during the entire legal time that they were open -- but managed to find almost the same amount to vote in the next two hours? Had this happened in Iraq, the American press would be screaming "FRAUD" in 72-point headlines, and everyone knows it.

Meanwhile, the Boston Globe also avoids the use of the L-word, but calls the victory "an overwhelming majority" and "a broad mandate." The Globe never mentions the rule changes. The Los Angeles Times calls his victory "resounding", and described the voting atmosphere in this manner:

Palestinians flocked to the nearly 1,100 voting stations amid a carnival-like atmosphere. Vendors set up shop near polling places, selling juice and candy on a day off from work and school. Little girls traded sweets while their fathers smoked and sipped tiny cups of strong, black coffee, talking endlessly of the day's events.

If the election proceedings provided this much entertainment, then why did voter turnout come up to a disappointing 35% before Fatah extended voting for two hours? The Times doesn't say. It mentions the extended polling but leaves the other rule changes murky, making them sound as if they had been in place all along.

Oddly, among the major American media, only the New York Times puts the pieces together, even if the Gray Lady makes no mention of the fraud risks inherent in the changes:

But there was concern about a turnout that was lower than expected on a chilly but sunny winter's day, and Palestinian election officials decided to keep the polls open two hours longer than originally planned. The election officials first said that Israeli restrictions at checkpoints and confusion at Jerusalem polling stations were the reasons for the extension. But the announcement came after reports of low turnout in some cities, including Ramallah, where election workers at one polling place, Al Qarami School, said that only 30 percent of those registered had voted by 4:30 p.m. The officials then acknowledged that they wanted more people to vote, because only 30 percent of the 1.8 million or so eligible voters had cast their ballots by noon.

The officials also declared during the late afternoon that voters who faced travel difficulties because of security restrictions, and so could not make it to their home polling places to cast their ballots, as was originally required, would be able to vote at any polling place by showing an identity card.

All in all, the response of the Western media comes to nothing short of a whitewash. The mid-stream rule changes and the subsequent voting pattern gives a pretty good indication of rampant fraud. The American media climbs all over Ohio for a few long lines at polling stations but misses this altogether. It's a shameful performance by the mainstream media.

UPDATE: That should have been 72-point headlines, not 32-point. 32-point is pretty big for the Web but darned small in a newspaper. (Hat tip: The Wilsons)

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 10, 2005 6:14 AM

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» MSM fails to report voting irregularities in... from Shock and Blog
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