The vote to elect Yasser Arafat's successor as president of the Palestinian National Authority takes place Sunday. The authority serves as the government in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, home to 3.6-million Palestinians. The election is also seen as an opportunity to restart the peace process, since Israel and the United States rejected Arafat as both leader of the Palestinians and their chief negotiator.
Polls show Mahmoud Abbas with a huge lead over activist Mustafa Barghouti. Analysts say Abbas needs about two-thirds of the vote to be able to claim even part of Arafat's emotional and political following _ Arafat won the presidency with 88 percent of the vote on Jan. 20, 1996. In accordance with Palestinian law, the 14-day campaign period ended Friday at midnight, 24 hours before election day.
+ Abbas, 69, is the interim Palestinian leader, head of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the nominee of its ruling Fatah party.
+ Long associated with Fatah and Arafat, the former Palestinian prime minister is considered a pragmatist who appears to have the tacit support of Israel and the United States.
+ As PLO leader, he has renewed contacts with Arab leaders. He opposes anti-Israeli violence as a tactic to achieve statehood.
+ To address criticism of Arafat's authoritarian rule, he has promised parliamentary elections in the first half of 2005, judicial reform and Fatah party elections.
+ Abbas' first task as president would be to resume peace talks with Israel. He also says Palestinians will cooperate with Israel's planned Gaza withdrawal as long as it is part of the broader "road map" peace process. Any peace agreement would require Israel to free all Palestinian prisoners.
+ Barghouti, 50, is running as an independent. He is a physician with a long history as a human rights and democracy activist.
+ Before the Palestinian uprisings, Barghouti's activism brought him many Israeli friends, but he has adopted a harder line in recent years.
+ He received his degree in Moscow and was a member of the once-communist Palestinian People's Party. He is a distant cousin of jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti.
+ Barghouti was a delegate to the 1991 Madrid peace talks but quit the peace process over the agreements the Palestinians have signed with Israel and its continued construction of Jewish settlements. He rejects the current U.S.-sponsored road map.
+ He sees his goal as leading a democratic opposition to the Palestinian National Authority, which he sees as corrupt and undemocratic.
Any candidate for president must be a Palestinian, 35 or older, have a valid address within the territory and be registered to vote. Out of seven candidates, voters show they favor Abbas:
Mahmoud Abbas 65%
Mustafa Barghouti 22%
Other candidates 5%
In the Gaza Strip 70%
In the West Bank 62%
Believe that he is the most able 71%
among all candidates to reach a
peace agreement with Israel
The most able to improve 61%
The most able to protect national 50%
unity and prevent internal
The most able to ensure the 26%
continuation of the armed
Note: Information Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research as of Jan. 2, 2005.
There are approximately 1.8-million eligible Palestinian voters. Here is a look at who can vote and what steps have been taken to make sure the election is safe and fair:
VOTERS must be Palestinians, residents of the West Bank, Gaza Strip or east Jerusalem and 18 years or older.
MUST BE REGISTERED or appear on a civil population registry and vote in their prescribed districts.
SLIGHTLY MORE THAN HALF ARE MALE and around two-thirds are under 40.
THOSE WHO MAY NOT VOTE include the 1-million Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, the roughly 4-million refugees outside the region, Palestinians in Israeli jails and common criminals whose rights have not been legally restored.
THE ISRAELIS have said they will facilitate border crossings on the day of the vote and reduce troops to a minimum in Palestinian towns 72 hours before the ballot. Election officials complain that Israel security measures hampered campaigning and will frustrate and intimidate voters.
21,000 OBSERVERS will be present; most Palestinian. The U. S. monitoring team will join up with the European Union team.
1,000 POLLING STATIONS will be spread through 16 electoral districts. Semitransparent boxes were donated by the Danish government, for polling station staff to see the ballot but not read the contents.
VOTERS' THUMBS will be inked to prevent double voting and paper ballots were printed on paper not available locally.
FORMER U. S. PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER is co-leader of an 80-member multinational delegation to observe the elections. During the 1996 election he accused Israel of voter intimidation.
+ Israel captured east Jerusalem in 1967 and considers the reunified city the capital of Israel. Palestinians want east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
+ Voting arrangements reflect the deep sensitivites over who will rule the city.
Only 5,300 residents will be allowed to vote inside the city. Most of the 120,000 eligible voters must travel to outlying suburbs.
+ Neither major candidate has been allowed to campaign extensively in Jerusalem.
AT A GLANCE
MILITANTS / TERRORISTS
Hamas and Islamic Jihad are boycotting the presidential race so as not to recognize the Palestinian National Authority, which they consider illegitimate. It's unknown whether this boycott will dampen turnout.
More than 55 percent of eligible voters are expected to turn out. Officials declared Jan. 9 a national holiday to encourage participation. Polling stations will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time.
Vote counting will be conducted in each polling center in front of local and international election observers. The results will be sent to the Central Election Commission in Ramallah, West Bank, which will publish preliminary results no later than 48 hours after polls close.
The United States and Israel view the likely winner of the presidential race, Mahmoud Abbas, as a moderate they can work with. However, Abbas refuses to forcibly crack down on militants.
Whoever wins, difficult issues remain: The question of the right of return to Israel for Palestinian refugees; the Israeli security barrier in the West Bank; Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails; the nature of the future Palestinian state and whether its capital will be east Jerusalem.
Sources: AP photos, AP, KRT, Times wires, Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, Haaretz, Health Development Information and Policy Institute, ESRI, Palestinian Central Election Commission, BBC News Online, Agence France-Presse, Jerusalem Post and and Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.
Interim leader and front-runner Abbas at a campaign rally in Hebron.
Presidential candidate Barghouti (center) holds hands with supporters.
Arafat died Nov. 11.