Buoyed by the ongoing power struggle and divisions in the ruling Fatah
is about to finish naming its candidates for next month's parliamentary elections. Hamas is participating in the parliamentary elections for the first time since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority
Unlike Fatah, Hamas has chosen many university teachers, physicians, pharmacists, lawyers, journalists and accountants as its representatives - a move that is being welcomed by many Palestinians, especially in the Gaza Strip, where the Islamic movement enjoys tremendous popularity.
A public opinion poll conducted by a Palestinian research center this week showed that nearly half of the residents of the Gaza Strip were planning to vote for Hamas in the parliamentary elections. The poll, which was held between November 29 and December 4, gave Hamas over 45 percent of the vote, while Fatah came in second with only 36%.
More than half of the 1,309 Palestinians who were covered by the poll said that they prefer to vote for religious candidates.
"Hamas's candidates are much better than most of our candidates," admitted a top Fatah official in Ramallah
. "Most of our candidates are political activists, former security prisoners and commanders of armed groups. This doesn't bode well for Fatah."
Over the past two weeks, Fatah held its first primary elections in several areas in the West Bank and Gaza Strip
. The vote resulted in the defeat of the party's old guard representatives to younger activists such as jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti
. The elections have been marred by allegations of massive voting fraud and irregularities, as well as violence.
"The problems and violence that accompanied the Fatah elections reflect the deep crisis which the party is witnessing," said political analyst Mohamed Yaghi. "As such, Fatah may not be able to achieve the minimum of what it aspires to in the coming elections."
Some Fatah candidates who won in the primary elections are now threatening to run as independents. Others have vowed to establish new lists that would compete with Fatah. On Wednesday, some of the winners published advertisements in the Palestinian media warning the Fatah leadership against ignoring the results of the vote.
Hamas, which did not hold primary elections, has chosen its candidates in secret balloting among its supporters throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip, sources close to the movement said.
While Fatah has been unable to choose its representatives in the Gaza Strip because of violence and anarchy, Hamas announced on Thursday that it had completed preparing its lists of local candidates for the January vote. "We have chosen the most qualified and professional faces," said a Hamas official in Gaza City
. "Fatah has good reason to be worried."