Ramallah — Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas postponed upcoming parliamentary elections on Saturday, giving his struggling Fatah party time to fend off a growing challenge by Hamas. The Islamic group condemned the delay as a violation of a cease-fire agreement but stopped short of withdrawing from the truce. Mr. Abbas, who made the announcement in Ramallah, did not give a new date for the election, which had been scheduled for July 17. He said a date would be set after discussions with the Palestinian legislature and rival political factions, including Hamas.
The official reason for the delay was technical. Mr. Abbas has been at odds with the Fatah-dominated parliament over the voting procedure. He wants all candidates chosen on national lists, while some party members believe their chances for re-election would be better with voting by district. "This is for more consultation and for legal measures to take place," Mr. Abbas said in a televised address. "Time is short. Postponement was necessary to enable ourselves to finalize the legal measures and consultations between factions."
But the move appeared aimed at fending off the threat by Hamas, which is fielding candidates for parliament for the first time. Tapping into voter disgruntlement over years of Fatah corruption, the militant group has captured a number of key races in recent local elections and appears poised for strong gains in the legislative vote as well.
Hamas officials accused Mr. Abbas of stonewalling because of disorganization within his party. "This decision was taken unilaterally without any consultation with the Palestinian factions, and it came as a response for the conditions and the atmosphere of the Fatah movement and not for any national consideration," said Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip.
This comes as no surprise considering that the previous May municipal election result has yet to be officially finalized and that just a few days ago Palestinian Authority Military Intelligence forces were rioting for two straight days against the Abbas government, and in protest, seized the Palestinian Legislature Council building in Gaza and held all hostage for hours. Talk about a non-confidence vote but what bears watching is the reaction of Hamas to the indefinite post-ponement of elections that most mid-east pundits were predicting a strong electoral showing for Hamas.
At this point the "lull" that Mahmoud Abbas negotiated with Hamas and Islamic Jihad is now in jeopardy as the carrot he held out as one inducement for Hamas & Islamic Jihad to sign on to an agreement for a "temporary lull of hostilities with Israel" was the May and July elections.