Poll: Fatah to take 43%, Hamas 32% in PA vote

A poll released on Channel Two television Wednesday evening showed Fatah winning 43 percent of the vote and Hamas 32 percent in the elections for the Palestinian parliament. A strong showing by Hamas in the election raised the possibility that the Islamic militant group, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction but has made conciliatory remarks in recent weeks, would join the Palestinian government for the first time. Earlier, a senior source with one of the groups conducting exit polls outside Palestinian polling stations Wednesday said that the ruling Fatah looked set to win 40 percent of the vote, and Hamas about 30 percent. The polls were roughly in line with surveys ahead of the first parliamentary election in a decade. Pollsters had cautioned that there would be a large margin of error in their projections, particularly because of the complicated Palestinian election system, under which some seats are chosen from party lists and some on a district basis. Voter turnout in election was 73 percent, the Central Election Commission said. In the West Bank, 70.6 percent of 1.3 million eligible voters cast ballots, and in the Gaza Strip, 76.8 percent participated in the vote. The turnout figure could climb, however, since the vote was extended by two hours in East Jerusalem. Voting in the city, permissible in post office branches only, will end at 9 P.M., but analysts do not expect official results before Friday. The high turnout in Gaza, which tends to support Hamas, was apparently balanced by a substantial turnout in the West Bank, which has a much higher total vote and stronger backing for Fatah. Polling stations in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank closed their doors at 7 P.M., but voters who were inside continued to cast ballots. Voting in Ramallah, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said he is ready to resume peace talks with Israel, even if Hamas joins his government after the legislative vote. „We are ready to negotiate,” Abbas told Israeli reporters who were in the West Bank city to cover the election. „We are partners with the Israelis. They don’t have the right to choose their partner. But if they are seeking a Palestinian partner, this partner exists,” he said. Hamas was expected to make a strong showing Wednesday, raising the possibility of it joining Abbas’ Cabinet. Israel refuses to deal with the group until it disarms, something it rules out. Earlier, Abbas praised his people for overcoming great obstacles to carry out the vote. „We are so happy with this election festival,” Abbas said after voting Ramallah. „So far, it’s going very well and we hope it will keep going well until the end without any troubles.” Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said Wednesday that the ruling Fatah party is ready to „stand behind” Hamas if the militant organization wins the parliamentary vote. „I hope that the minority will accept the decisions of the majority,” Qureia said after voting in the Jerusalem suburb of Abu Dis. „If Hamas wins, they will win and we will stand behind them. This is democracy and we accept the results of the elections.” Thousands of PA police keep order Polls opened at 7 A.M. Wednesday in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, with 1.3 million Palestinians eligible to vote in the first parliamentary elections in a decade. Some 13,000 police officers deployed at 1,008 polling stations, taking up positions on rooftops and at entrances to enforce a weapons ban. „We do not expect violence but we have been instructed to use force against anyone who tries to disrupt the election process,” Palestinian policeman Ibrahim Mahmoud said in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Pollsters had predicted a turnout of at least 75 percent, with the mild weather boding well for Fatah. Rain had been forecast for Wednesday, but it failed to materialize. Poor weather could have given Hamas, with its ideologically more committed electorate, an edge. Shortly after polls opened, Palestinian security forces confiscated candidate lists given to voters outside polling stations in a Gaza Strip refugee camp. The lists were distributed by both Fatah and Hamas to tell voters which candidates to choose. Authorities confiscated the lists as people entered the voting stations, and gave them back after people cast ballots. The lists were considered a violation of a ban on campaigning that went into effect Tuesday. Eleven party lists, representing all Palestinian factions except the Islamic Jihad, appeared on local ballots in the first parliamentary elections since 1996. About 900 foreign observers, led by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, were deployed to monitor the process.