Saeb Erikat wins re-election

Saeb Erikat, one of the best-known world faces of the Palestinian Authority, has won re-election to parliament in his home town of Jericho, beating back a challenge from a Hamas candidate.

    Erikat (R) is the Palestinian chief peace negotiator

    But Erikat was not celebrating. He acknowledged that his Fatah party took a beating at the hands of the voters on Wednesday, and many of his colleagues were defeated.

    Erikat said he won two-thirds of the vote in the Jordan River Valley oasis town of 30,000, defeating Khaled Rai, 36, who had the backing of Hamas. Erikat called it "a staggering victory over Hamas and their allies".

    But he said Fatah must do some soul-searching and revitalise its internal institutions. He said in its 10 years in power, Fatah had failed to deliver in two key areas.

    "I think above everything else, we promised Palestinians will deliver them toward peace, and today we are still under [Israeli] occupation," he said, "and then, this big motto of corruption and misgovernment that Hamas used very well in its campaign."

    Exit polls show Erikat's party, the ruling Fatah, winning enough seats in the parliament to form a government without Hamas, which took more than one-third of the vote. However, Erikat indicated that options are open.

    "It's premature to speak now about the shape and form of the cabinet," he said, "but I can tell you that this will be the beginning of a new Palestinian political life, a new horizon."


    Erikat, 50, the Palestinian official in charge of negotiations with Israel, is a leading spokesman for the Palestinian Authority and appears often on international television news programmes, using his fluent English to explain the Palestinian case.

    Erikat is a political science professor by profession but has been deeply involved in Palestinian politics for two decades.

    The election battle in Jericho was in many ways a microcosm of the entire contest. While Erikat represented the establishment, Rai pointed to Hamas accomplishments in the quiet town - a medical clinic and a shelter for 500 children, as well as financial aid to 300 families, all funded by donations, mostly from abroad.

    However, Erikat himself had an advantage over many of his Fatah colleagues. He was not tainted by corruption charges that have plagued the Fatah-led Palestinian government for the past decade.



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