West Bank – Mahmoud Abbas was elected Palestinian Authority president by a landslide, final results showed Monday, giving the pragmatist a mandate to resume peace talks with Israel – but also leaving him with the tough task of reining in powerful armed groups. Israeli leaders welcomed Abbas’ victory, but said they will watch closely how hard he tries to subdue militants.
Abbas could easily lose his political capital over a major bombing or shooting attack, and while most militant groups signaled they are willing to give him a chance, not all have signed on to a truce with Israel.
Still, Abbas’ victory held out the promise of a new era after four decades of chaotic and corruption-riddled rule by Yasser Arafat, who died Nov. 11. Abbas, who has spoken out against violence and has the support of the international community, promises to reform the government and the unwieldy security services.
Many Palestinians had high expectations of Abbas, widely known as Abu Mazen. ‘Today is the beginning of a new future,’ said Sami Radwan, 55, a restaurant owner in Gaza City. ‘Abu Mazen is the right choice. He is the one who can bring us peace, good business and security.’ Abbas won 62.3 percent of the vote, according to final results announced Monday. Abbas’ main challenger, independent Mustafa Barghouti, won about 20 percent, while the remaining five candidates scored in the lower single digits. There was some confusion about voter participation, a possible point of contention between Abbas’ Fatah movement, which was pushing for a high turnout, and the Islamic militant group Hamas, which had called for a boycott.