BETHLEHEM // The vote count for the parliament of the secular Fatah party of the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was set to begin yesterday after long delays, an election official said. Final results of the complicated election process for the body known as the Revolutionary Council, could take two days and a recount was possible, the official added, after some 700 candidates vied for 80 places available in the 128-seat body.
Mr Abbas emerged strengthened from Tuesday's vote for Fatah's 23-seat executive body, the Central Committee, as some 2,300 delegates chose 18 younger members and unseated many of the "old guard" of the late Yasser Arafat, Fatah's founder. Mr Abbas, 74, gambled by calling the first congress of his fractious movement in 20 years. Analysts said the younger executive would rejuvenate Fatah and consolidate his position as its leader.
Senior Fatah members believe the faction is now better placed to seek a crucial reconciliation with its fierce rival, the Islamist group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, restoring some unity to the divided Palestinian nationalist cause. A revitalisation of Fatah, battered at parliamentary polls by Hamas in 2006 because of perceived corruption, cronyism and complacency, may also strengthen Mr Abbas's hand in talks with Israel as the US President Barack Obama readies a new peace plan.
Fatah's marathon congress began in Bethlehem last Tuesday as Palestinians of the diaspora arrived from more than 80 countries for the 44-year-old movement's first convention on home soil. They chose a new line-up of mostly middle-aged men raised under Israeli occupation, replacing some veterans viewed as a gerontocracy living in comfortable exile but clinging to power. Several Central Committee members, like Arafat, had died. Of 18 members elected to the 23-member Central Committee, only one now lives abroad, meaning Mr Abbas will no longer have to convene meetings of Fatah's decision-making body in Jordan.
Mr Abbas will appoint four other committee members later and with him at the head the body will total 23 members. The election official said the voting committee had received complaints that Revolutionary Council voting papers ended up in Central Committee ballot boxes and that a recount was held, although this did not change the results. "We have completed the recount on some boxes but the result was unchanged," Ahmad Sayyad, head of election commission, said.