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Officials: Hamas wins Palestinian election
Updated: 2006-01-26 20:46

One defeated Fatah candidate, Nabil Amr, said he did not expect his party to accept a junior position in a Hamas-led government. "I don't think Fatah can participate in a lower position," said Amr.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas shows his marked finger after casting his vote at Palestinian Authority headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah January 25, 2006.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas shows his marked finger after casting his vote at Palestinian Authority headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah January 25, 2006. [Reuters]

The election marked the first time Hamas has contested a legislative vote, and leading the Cabinet could give it significant powers. The Cabinet holds wide control over security forces, finance and other government functions, though Abbas has retained power mainly through tradition and political leverage.

Abbas, in his role as leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, would still remain in charge of negotiations with Israel.

Palestinian election officials confirmed early Thursday that Hamas had won a large majority of the seats up for grabs in electoral districts in the West Bank and Gaza.

Half the seats were chosen on a national list and the other half by districts. While the national voting appeared to be close, election officials said Hamas had won a large majority in the district races. Hamas apparently took advantage of divisions in Fatah; the long-ruling party fielded multiple candidates in many districts, allowing the Islamic group to capitalize.

Initial exit polls had forecast a slight edge for Fatah, with Hamas coming in a strong second. The polls predicted that neither party would have a majority and would have to rely on smaller parties to form a coalition.

However, on Thursday morning, Hamas officials said the group had won up to 75 seats giving it a solid majority in the 132-member parliament.

Officials in Fatah conceded that Hamas had won about 70 seats. They spoke on condition of anonymity because counting in some districts was continuing.

Palestinian pollsters were at a loss to explain the discrepancy between the exit polls. Many voters said they had been afraid to admit to pollsters they had supported Hamas, fearing retribution.

Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi, who apparently was re-elected on a moderate platform, said the Hamas victory was a dramatic turning point. She said she is concerned the militants will now impose their fundamentalist social agenda and lead the Palestinians into international isolation.

She said Fatah's corruption, Israel's tough measures and international indifference to the plight of the Palestinians were to blame for Hamas' strong showing.

Washington miscalculated in pushing for the vote, as part of its pro-democracy campaign in the Arab world, she said. "The Americans insisted on having the election now, so they have to respect the results of the election, as we all do," she said.

Israel has repeatedly asked Abbas to force Hamas and other militant groups to disarm but Abbas has refused, warning such an act could cause civil war. Hamas has committed dozens of suicide bombings against Israel.

Turnout was heavy, with nearly 78 percent of 1.3 million eligible voters casting ballots. Polling stations were heavily guarded, and there were no reports of major violence.

International observers, including former President Carter, reported no major problems with fraud.

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