Abbas Wins Palestine Authority Presidential Election
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GWEN IFILL: Two hours after the polls closed Mahmoud Abbas greeted his supporters and claimed victory in yesterday’s election. It was a landslide — 62 percent of the vote. Abbas took a moment to praise his predecessor, the late Yasser Arafat.
MAHMOUD ABBAS (translated): If we are offering this victory we should offer it firstly to the soul of my brother, the president, the martyr, Yasser Arafat.
GWEN IFILL: Turnout was heavy — nearly 70 percent, for just the second presidential election in the 10-year history of the Palestinian National Authority. The election was closely watched in Israel and in the United States.
Abbas, who is also known as Abu Mazen, had the quiet support of both the American and Israeli governments. The Israeli foreign minister who is hosting U.S. Sen. John Kerry in Israel today said Abbas must act quickly to end violence.
SHALOM: What’s important now is that the new leader of the Palestinians, Mahmoud Abbas, Abu Mazen, will take the strategic decision to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorist organizations on one hand and on the other hand to put an end to the incitement.
I believe that the time has come for him to take a strategic decision to move toward peace. Statements are very important, but we would like to see words and deeds.
GWEN IFILL: In Washington President Bush welcomed the election and extended an offer to Abbas that he had taken pains not to make to Arafat.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I look forward to welcoming him here to Washington if he chooses to come here. This is a man who has been elected by what appears to be a good size vote. I’m heartened by the elections.
GWEN IFILL: International observers were also heartened.
SPOKESPERSON: Despite the difficult and tense conditions, which you all know, Palestinian electoral authorities made adequate and sufficient arrangements for voters. And the strong turnout showed that the public was enthusiastic to decide its democratic rights.
GWEN IFILL: Former President Jimmy Carter who led an international monitoring team said the outcome presents a hopeful moment.
JIMMY CARTER: This opens up an opportunity in my opinion for renewed peace negotiations and with ultimate judgment of both peace and security.
GWEN IFILL: After decades spent working in the shadow of Arafat, Abbas began to play a more central role in the Palestinian authority two years ago. He was appointed the first Palestinian prime minister in April, 2003. But he quit the post soon after in a power struggle with Arafat.
Now Abbas has been elected to succeed the man with whom he worked sometimes contentiously for so hard and so long.