- The Washington Times - Monday, January 30, 2006

A leading Palestinian pollster says Hamas’ victory in Palestinian elections last week had less to do with the militant group’s hard-line posture toward Israel than with voter anger against the long-ruling Fatah party founded by Yasser Arafat.

Voters “didn’t just want to hurt Fatah. They wanted to defeat it,” said Khalil Shikaki, director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.

“The only group that can defeat Fatah is Hamas. So they voted for Hamas,” he said during a conference call with U.S. reporters yesterday.

Mr. Shikaki, who has conducted more than 75 polls among Palestinians since 1993, said four main factors determined voters’ decision in Wednesday’s election, in which Hamas swept 74 out of 132 parliamentary seats.

Corruption within the Palestinian government concerned 45 percent of voters, according to exit polls, with a lack of law and order registering as the next greatest concern. A lack of economic development and the failure of the peace process ranked third and fourth, with each troubling about one-third of voters.

Mr. Shikaki said dissatisfaction with Fatah was greatest in the cities, where corruption and lawlessness are most acute. Rural voters turned out to be more supportive of Fatah.

The election outcome surprised pollsters, who had foreseen a narrow Fatah victory. Mr. Shikaki said there might have been a last-minute surge in support for Hamas that went unnoticed.

“Fatah’s campaign was the lousiest,” he said. “It focused on Arafat, a man who had already died,” whereas Hamas stressed the party’s ability to provide good government and stability.

Amid international skepticism about the future of the Palestinian territories, Mr. Shikaki said he thinks Hamas will form a unity coalition with Fatah.

“Hamas itself was surprised. It is not prepared to be ‘the’ government, although they want to be in the government,” he said. He predicted that Hamas would concede as many as half of the ministries to Fatah and allow the party to pursue peace with Israel.

Exit polls on the night of the election had forecast a victory for Fatah, an outcome Mr. Shikaki attributed to the unusually high number of people who declined to talk to the pollsters.

About 4,000 voters refused to be questioned compared with a few hundred in other elections, he said. He said he suspected that there was an organized effort to mislead the pollsters.

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