Interim Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is emerging as the front-runner in presidential elections, with an 18-point lead over jailed uprising leader Marwan Barghouti, according to the first poll on how Palestinians will vote on January 9.
A second survey was to be published later today.
The poll by the Palestinian Centre for Public Opinion indicated a significant increase in Abbas’ popularity after he was named the presidential candidate of the ruling Fatah movement last month.
Abbas, a pragmatic politician who has the tacit support of the United States and Israel, had been seen as lacking voter appeal.
The popular Barghouti, who is serving multiple life terms in an Israeli prison for his role in deadly shooting attacks, is considered Abbas’ main challenger.
Barghouti, a senior Fatah leader, had initially agreed to stay out of the race, to avoid infighting and allow an orderly transition after the death of Yasser Arafat.
However, he decided at the last moment to submit his candidacy as an independent, drawing criticism, even from allies in Fatah. 40% of the respondents said they were disappointed about Barghouti’s zig-zag.
It was the first survey conducted after the list of candidates closed last week, with 10 contenders for Palestinian Authority president.
Abbas won 39.8% support, compared to 21.9% for Barghouti. Mustafa Barghouti, an independent candidate and a relative of Marwan Barghouti, came in third among the 10 candidates, with 13.6%.
Palestinians last had a presidential election in 1996.
In Monday’s poll, 85% of respondents said they planned to vote. 44% said they opposed a decision by the Islamic militant group Hamas to boycott the vote.
Asked to choose the most important of six political issues, 27.1% said a candidates’ position on the fate of Jerusalem was a key factor in deciding who to vote for. Israel and the Palestinians both want Jerusalem as their capital.
The second most important campaign issue, with 22.5%, is the fate of Palestinian refugees.
Yesterday, visiting German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said the Palestinian elections and an ed to violence could lead to renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
“The talks were excellent, friendly, and I’m leaving Ramallah with a very optimistic impression,” Fischer said. He promised 5.38 million dollars (£2.8 million) and technical help for the Palestinian election, members of the German delegation said.