Fatah support patchy in poll

June 23, 1995

Student union elections at several Palestinian universities have produced evidence of the deeply-divided opinions on the Middle East peace process.

As pressure mounted from both Israeli left-wing parties and the Palestinians to complete arrangements for elections in the West Bank and Gaza strip by July 1, the university polls are seen as providing an early indication of wider voting trends.

At both Bir-Zeit University near Ramallah and at Bethlehem University, groups associated with Yasser Arafat's Fatah organisation attracted widespread support at the ballot box.

At Bethlehem, Fatah secured seven out of the nine student council seats while its candidate for union president easily beat off his two rivals, polling 57 per cent of the vote.

The elections at Bir-Zeit attracted an 85 per cent turnout and voters were able to choose between a wide range of parties, each broadly associated with a Palestinian political movement. However, despite a slight improvement in its overall support, Fatah supporters will most likely end up in opposition on the Bir-Zeit student council. As happened after the previous elections it appears as if a number of groups opposed to the peace process will unite to form a majority coalition.

But support for groups opposed to the peace process was also to be found in Jerusalem. At the Abu-Dis campus of Al-Quds University candidates from the Hamas group swept the board, winning all the seats on the student council thereby consolidating their influence at the university. A raid on the campus earlier this year by Israeli security forces was put forward by some students as a contributing factor.

Given Fatah's patchy performance at the university polls, there is a growing fear that a widespread boycott of the elections for a Palestinian governing council will significantly damage the credibility of any resultant administrative body.

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