Abbas faces blow to election prospects as rivals confirm challenges.

With his Fatah party in disarray, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas faces the prospect of defeat in the upcoming Palestinian elections.

According to some Palestinian analysts, Mr Abbas may consider either delaying or cancelling the parliamentary elections, scheduled for May 22nd, and the presidential vote at the end of August, in order to avoid such a scenario.

On Wednesday the deadline passed for presenting lists for the parliamentary elections, with figures associated with Fatah having split into three separate groups.

In a significant blow to the Fatah leadership, the popular former militant leader Marwan Barghouti decided to set up a list together with Nasser al-Kidwa, Yasser Arafat’s nephew and an experienced Palestinian diplomat who was recently expelled from Fatah.

Mr Barghouti will be represented by his wife on the list. He was the head of the Fatah-affiliated Tanzim militia and is serving five life sentences plus 40 years in an Israeli jail for attacks during the second Palestinian intifada uprising.

A third Fatah-affiliated list is headed by former Gaza Strip security chief Mohammad Dahlan, an arch-rival of Mr Abbas. Mr Dahlan was expelled from Fatah and lives in exile in the United Arab Emirates.

A recent survey found that a list headed by Mr Barghouti would defeat Mr Abbas’s bloc: 28 per cent of those polled said they would vote for Mr Barghouti’s list, while 22 per cent said they would vote for Mr Abbas’s faction.

Desire for change

Prof Mohammed Dajani Daoudi, director of the Palestinian Wasatia academic institute in Jerusalem, said Mr Abbas could be the big loser. “He’s not popular and the majority of people want change. Marwan Barghouti is seen as a symbol of freedom: he is a prisoner and they consider themselves under occupation in prison.”

The big winner of the Fatah-related turmoil is likely to be Hamas, the Islamist rival to Mr Abbas, which controls Gaza. In 2006, the last time parliamentary elections were held, Hamas won the most seats, and a repeat scenario is possible this time.

Some Palestinian analysts are predicting that Mr Abbas may decide to delay or cancel the votes and could use Israeli actions as the reason.

Israel, absorbed in its own neverending cycle of elections and attempts to form a governing coalition, has still not decided if it will allow Palestinian residents of occupied East Jerusalem to vote in the May 22nd elections at polling booths in Palestinian neighbourhoods. Officials in Mr Abbas’s Ramallah office have already warned that “without Jerusalem there will be no elections”, and Israeli obstacles could provide Mr Abbas with an excuse to scuttle the process.

Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Malki said Israel has refused in the past several weeks to issue entry visas to a vanguard of EU election observers.

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