Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas announced on Tuesday that he would honor the results of last week's primary elections for his ruling Fatah party and promised to look into allegations of irregularities and massive fraud during the voting process. He was speaking to reporters upon his return from Barcelona, where he attended a two-day summit of European Union nations and their southern Mediterranean neighbors.
On Monday, Fatah leaders in the Gaza Strip called off primary elections after rival Fatah gangs fought street battles and stormed polling stations, firing into the air and stealing ballot boxes. Asked whether he had ordered the suspension of the elections in other areas in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Abbas said: "We will certainly deal positively with the results of the elections that were held in some areas and we will look into the [alleged] loopholes.
As for those areas where elections have not yet been held, we will have to find a suitable solution." Primary elections that were held in five West Bank areas late last week have resulted in a stunning defeat for representatives of Fatah's old guard.
"What happened in the Gaza Strip is a real disaster for Fatah," said Haitham Salah, a Fatah operative. "It shows that we are living in a jungle full of gangs and militias." Many of the candidates who lost the vote have since complained of irregularities and cheating, urging Abbas to cancel the results and hold new elections.
PA officials here said the turmoil in Fatah could force Abbas to postpone parliamentary elections scheduled for January 25. PA Civil Affairs Minister Mohammed Dahlan, who is running in the primary elections, called on Abbas to form a commission of inquiry to look into the events that took place in the Gaza Strip on Monday. He accused veteran Fatah leaders of seeking to disrupt the vote to prevent young activists from winning. "No one has the right to cancel these elections despite the mistakes that were made,' he said. "Those who are disrupting the vote are afraid of confronting the results. They prefer to see candidates appointed rather than elected."
Dahlan and many other Fatah activists fear that Abbas is planning to appoint his own candidates to run in the parliamentary vote because of the party's failure to hold free and democratic elections. "The era of appointments is over," Dahlan stressed, referring to times when Yasser Arafat used to appoint Fatah officials. "We insist on elections." Sources in the Gaza Strip said Dahlan's followers were among the gunmen who raided several polling stations to protest against the fact that the names of thousands of Fatah members had been omitted from voting lists.
Jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, who scored a major victory in the primary elections that were held in the Ramallah area, also warned against attempts by Abbas to appoint candidates for the parliamentary elections.
Barghouti told two senior Fatah activists who visited him in prison on Monday that his success in the elections, along with other representatives of the young guard, was a "victory for the intifada and resistance against Israel." Hafez barghouti, editor of the PA daily al-Hayat al-Jadeeda, said that the violence and fraud that accompanied the voting for the Fatah primaries showed the party would not be able to run in the parliamentary elections. "Those who cheated are enemies of Fatah," he said. "So are those who attacked polling stations and who removed the names of eligible voters from the lists." He said that under the current circumstances there was no other choice but to ask Fatah institutions to name their own candidates for the legislative elections. "If the situation continues as it is, Fatah will suffer a humiliating defeat in the elections for parliament," he cautioned.