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Crowded field for Palestinian election
After days of internal haggling, Fatah has decided unanimously to nominate Mahmud Abbas as its candidate for the forthcoming Palestinian Authority presidential election scheduled for 9 January.
The nomination is expected to be approved by Fatah's revolutionary council and other relevant bodies later this week.
It is unclear, though, if the nomination of Abbas, also known as Abu Mazin, was coordinated with Marwan al-Barghuthi, the less experienced but more popular Fatah's secretary-general who is serving five consecutive life imprisonment terms in Israel for masterminding the Palestinian intifada against the Israeli occupation.
Earlier this week, al-Barghuthi's wife, Fadwa, obtained a nomination application form for her husband, suggesting that he was planning to announce his candidacy.
The Fatah's armed wing, al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, announced that it would back al-Barghuthi should he decide to nominate himself.
But Zakariya Zubaidi, head of the brigades in the West Bank, was quoted on Wednesday as saying that Fatah's military arm would back "any nominee enjoying full Fatah backing".
The mixed signals suggest that Fatah, a heterogeneous organisation, is not really unanimous in nominating Abu Mazin to succeed Arafat.
Palestinian sources said the Fatah's old guard, including PA Prime Minister Ahmad Quraya, were making "intensive contacts" with al-Barghuthi through his lawyer for the purpose of convincing him to step down, on the ground that he was still "a young man and that he had a future ahead of him".
According to the same sources, al-Barghuthi was further promised that intense efforts would be made to get Israel to free him.
Palestinian Authority (PA) Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath said on Monday he had asked visiting Secretary of State Collin Powell to put pressure on Israel to release al- Barghuthi. Powell, who also met with PA officials in Jericho this week, voiced his support for the election process.
Earlier, Powell received assurances from Sharon that Israel would "facilitate" the elections. It was far from clear, however, whether the "facilitation" would involve the withdrawal of the Israeli occupation forces from Palestinian population centres.
Meanwhile, as many as eight other candidates have so far announced or signalled their intention to stand in the 9 January elections.
One of the candidates is Mustafa al-Barghuthi, a well-known political activist and distant cousin of Marwan al-Barghuthi.
He told Aljazeera.net he would seek to form a centrist coalition to prevent the recurrence of an "Oslo-like disaster", an allusion to the failure of the Oslo accords between Israel and the PLO.
Earlier, five Palestinian leftist and secular groups, including the People's Party (Communist), the Popular and Democratic Fronts for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP & DFLP), the Palestine Democratic Union, and the Popular Struggle Front, decided to nominate former legislative council member Haidar Abd al-Shafi to run for president.
However, the elderly Gaza figure declined the invitation, citing his poor health and old age.
Abd al-Shafi reportedly recommended that the Democratic Coalition, as the five leftist groups now call themselves, choose Mustafa al-Barghuthi as their candidate.
Al-Barghuthi, though popular and widely respected, is unlikely to pose a serious challenge to Abu Mazin, especially if Fatah stands solidly behind him.
His former affiliation with the Communist-oriented Palestine People's Party, which enjoys relatively little popularity among Palestinians, is likely to militate against his candidacy.
Al-Barghuthi may well try to enhance his chances by trying to secure the explicit or tacit backing of large numbers of Palestinians who are disenchanted with Abu Mazin's overly dovish attitudes.
Another important presidential hopeful is Abd al-Sattar Qasim, professor of political science at al-Najah University, who was the first to announce his candidacy.
Qasim told Aljazeera.net that he was the only candidate to have a detailed, written platform, which includes a commitment to preserve and defend the right of return for Palestinian refugees as well as put up a determined war against corruption.
Qasim hopes to woo "the Islamic forces", "true nationalists" and the "disgruntled Fatah supporters" who don't give Abu Mazin the benefit of the doubt but favour a strong and uncompromising stance on such issues as the status of Jerusalem, the right of return, and the need to eliminate all Jewish settlements from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.
Three more candidates announced their nomination on Wednesday, including Palestinian lawmaker and outspoken critic of the late PA leader Yasir Arafat, Hasan Khrishi.
In an interview with Aljazeera.net, Khrishi said he was nominated by the "democratic national caucus" in the Palestinian legislative council, which includes eight lawmakers.
"If elected, I will wage a relentless and determined war on corruption," he said.
He said he is building contacts with Hamas in an effort to secure their backing.
Hamas has so far refrained from backing any specific candidate for president of the Palestinian Authority.
However, a prominent Hamas official in the West Bank told Aljazeera.net earlier this week that the movement might decide to support "the best or least disagreeable" candidate in the elections.