On the 20th of January 1996, after more than a quarter of a century of Israelioccupation, Palestinians were called to the booths to elect a new leader for the Palestinian Authority.
They had to chose between two candidates: historic leader Yasser Arafat, and an unknown 72-year old woman, Samiha Khalil. Eighty percent of Palestinians turned out to vote and, as expected, Yasser Arafat won with an overwhelming 88 percent.
Nine years later the leader is gone, but his ghost continues to haunt Palestinian politics. His image should be enough to ensure victory for his successor, Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah candidate.
Opinion polls show he should pick up around 65 percent of the vote. Most of his supporters live in the Palestinian refugee camps. Most have no doubt over who their next president will be.
After Arafat’s long mandate, other candidates have had a hard time to even get noticed by the Palestinian people. Some, like the parents of little Nafaz, a two-year old girl killed by gunfire as she was playing outside in the refugee camp of Rafah, just want one thing: “We just want our children to have a normal life, like children all around the world, not to die at the age of two. We cannot even let them play outside any longer,” says her mother. Others in Rafah are simply asking their president for a better life:
“Of course we need somebody who can implement our demands, the demands of the people, of the homeland, of those who are frustrated to live like this,” says one man. Despite a call by the militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad to boycott the vote, many seem to determined to cast their ballot this Sunday.
As for Abbas, he will need the two thirds victory forecast if he is to inherit Arafat’s political and affective popularity.