Exit Polls: Abbas Wins Palestinian Vote
Mahmoud Abbas won at least 66 percent of the vote in the Palestinian presidential election Sunday, according to two exit polls. Such a margin of victory would give Abbas a clear mandate to renew peace talks with Israel, rein in militants and reform the corruption-riddled Palestinian Authority. Abbas won 66 percent of the vote while his main challenger, Mustafa Barghouti, won 19.7 percent, according to a poll conducted by the independent Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research. The poll was based on about responses from about 10,000 voters and had an error margin of 3 percentage points.
“This percentage means that Abu Mazen will have the legitimacy to negotiate with the Israelis, and the Palestinian people will accept what Abu Mazen will agree on. He has a mandate from the voters,” said the Palestinian policy center’s director, Khalil Shekaki.
Abu Mazen is a nickname for Abbas.
A second survey, by An Najah University in the West Bank city of Nablus, showed Abbas winning 69.5 percent, compared with 24.5 percent for Barghouti. That poll, based on responses by more than 5,000 voters, had an error margin of 5 percentage points.
While exit polls can certainly be wrong–as we’ve witnessed in our own elections–the outcome here was essentially a foregone conclusion. Abbas was the only candidate with any serious chance of winning.
Strangely, an earlier AP story was less effusive on the “mandate” issue:
Palestinians held their first presidential election in nine years Sunday, choosing a successor to longtime leader Yasser Arafat in a vote that many hoped would revitalize the Mideast peace process. Mahmoud Abbas, the candidate of Arafat’s ruling Fatah (news – web sites) movement, was expected to win easily. But he was struggling to capture a clear mandate to push forward with his agenda of resuming peace talks with Israel and reforming the corruption-riddled Palestinian Authority.
Palestinians initially said polls were being kept open another two hours because of heavy turnout. Subsequently, however, officials said the polls were being kept open to encourage turnout, which was only about 30 percent of 1.8 million eligible voters by noon local time (5 a.m. EST). The Central Election Commission decided to keep polls open until 2 p.m. EST. Results of two exit polls were to be announced shortly thereafter. One election official said the panel came under heavy pressure from Fatah to keep polls open longer amid growing concerns that a low turnout could strengthen Abbas’ challenger, Mustafa Barghouti, an independent.
Voting went relatively smoothly. In one incident, five gunmen burst into an election office, firing into the air and complaining that the names of their relatives had been left off registration lists. The situation was resolved peacefully. In Jerusalem, there was some confusion over voter lists that was eventually resolved with the help of international observers, including former President Carter.
Good ol’ Jimmy Carter.
WaPo’s Peter Baker, echoing comments that would be made on many of the Sunday talking heads shows, sees a much broader issue at stake here than who governs the Palestinian Authority:
He fretted about turnout the other day because, as he put it, that is what politicians do. Never mind that his name will not be on the ballot. For President Bush, back-to-back elections in the Middle East starting today represent a milestone that, for better or worse, will help shape the legacy of his presidency. The vote for a new Palestinian president today and the election of a new National Assembly in Iraq in three weeks add up to the first meaningful test for Bush’s vision of spreading democracy to a region ruled almost exclusively by monarchs, despots and theocrats.
In Bush’s view, successful elections in two of the world’s most volatile places will ignite a chain reaction of reform and public pressure that will shake repressive governments across Arab society. Yet in this region, the term “battleground states” takes on more ominous meaning, and the cycle of violence and terrorism threatens further destabilization that could, skeptics say, undermine Bush’s “march of democracy.”
The real results, therefore, may not be known when polls close in Gaza City and the West Bank tonight or across Iraq on Jan. 30, 10 days after Bush’s inauguration to a second term. It may be months, even years before the ripple effects of the elections become clear. Yet either way, triumph or disaster, analysts and administration officials agree they will indelibly mark the Bush record.
“His inauguration is bracketed by two events that are very big, very important for the meaning and success of his presidency,” said William Kristol, chief of staff to former vice president Dan Quayle and now editor of the Weekly Standard. “No one thinks everything changes the day after the elections. But what some people thought was a naive Wilsonian democracy may turn out to be his real legacy.”
Regardless of how it turns out, this will be Bush’s legacy. If Iraq is in shambles at the end of his term, Bush’s presidency will be judged a failure, almost irrespective of any achievements on the domestic front. If Iraq is democratic, reasonably stable, and a model for other Middle Eastern states, Bush will be adjudged one of our best presidents.