Hamas leaders have reacted to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's threat to call early legislative and presidential elections by declaring that they have nothing to fear at the ballot boxes. Abbas, according to his top aides, is seriously considering the possibility of holding new elections as soon as March 2007. Hamas, which ran in the January 2006 parliamentary election for the first time, says it is so confident that its members will win a second vote that it is also now studying the possibility of contesting the presidential election. But Hamas has made it known that it will participate in new elections only if the movement receives assurances that the vote will be conducted in a free and democratic atmosphere. The main reason why Hamas is not afraid to run in another election is because Abbas's rival Fatah party has failed to reform itself and get rid of those officials who were voted out because of their role in financial corruption and abuse of power. Ever since Fatah lost the election about one year ago, its leaders have been too busy searching for ways to return to power at any cost. Instead of embarking on a process of internal reform, Fatah representatives devoted most of their time and efforts trying to undermine and discredit Hamas in the Palestinian public's eyes. In addition, Fatah remains as divided as ever as its leaders and members continue to fight over money and power. The traditional power struggle between the young guard and the old guard in Fatah is still raging as Abbas and his veteran allies continue to resist demands to hold internal elections. Ironically, Hamas's presence in power has provided an excuse for Abbas and the Fatah's old guard to continue with their policy of blocking attempts to reform and inject fresh blood into the party's leadership. The [Fatah-dominated] PLO Executive Committee and the Fatah Central Committee are still in the hands of former cronies of Yasser Arafat. Besides the historic rivalry between the old guard and the young guard, Fatah is also currently witnessing a severe power struggle between some of its top figures. When Abbas recently tried to convene the Fatah Central Committee in Jordan, he was forced to call off the planned meeting due to sharp differences between him and estranged Fatah leader Farouk Kaddoumi. Kaddoumi, who is based in Tunis, has been accused by Abbas loyalists of seeking to stage a mutiny inside Fatah against Abbas and his supporters. In recent weeks, Kaddoumi, who has since been effectively stripped of all his powers, has even gone a step further by forging an "unholy alliance" with Abbas's biggest enemy - Syria-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal. Kaddoumi and Mashaal, according to Abbas confidants, are now involved in a secret scheme to establish a "new" PLO with the help of Syria and Iran. Over the past few months, the Palestinian arena has witnessed the comeback of former Fatah officials, operatives and warlords who were largely responsible for their party's defeat in the parliamentary election. These figures, voted out because of their role in financial embezzlement and bad governance, are now projecting themselves as the ultimate "saviors" of the Palestinians. What is absurd is that the international community, including Washington, is once again ready to embrace them. Given the current divisions and squabbling in Fatah, it is highly unlikely that the party will be able to change dramatically before the next vote. In fact, it is almost evident that the same Fatah candidates who ran in the last election will once again seek the confidence of Palestinian voters. As one senior Fatah operative said, "If we run with the same list and faces, this time we will lose even more votes. The Palestinians are not stupid enough to vote for those who failed them for many years." True, Palestinians have paid a very heavy price ever since Hamas came to power. Financial sanctions have only worsened the conditions of Palestinians and increased their bitterness and frustration. But this does not necessarily mean that the majority of Palestinians are angry with Hamas. Many Palestinians, especially in the Gaza Strip, continue to support Hamas because they believe in the movement's ideology. As far as they are concerned, if the Hamas-led government fails to deliver, it will be because of external pressure and not the result of financial corruption and mismanagement. In its next pre-election campaign, Hamas is certain to win the sympathy of many Palestinians by merely depicting itself as the victim of a US-led conspiracy involving Abbas and Fatah.