RAMALLAH, West Bank – The Palestinian parliament speaker was to be sworn in later Thursday as the temporary Palestinian Authority president, in place of Yasser Arafat (search), officials said.
In scheduling the ceremony just several hours after Arafat's death, Palestinian leaders signaled their determination to ensure a smooth transition.
Under law, Parliament Speaker Rauhi Fattouh (search), a virtual unknown, will serve as caretaker president until elections are held within 60 days.
Arafat held three top jobs — president of the Palestinian Authority (search), chief of the PLO and leader of the ruling Fatah movement .
The PLO executive committee was also meeting Thursday to decide on a new chief. The top contender is Mahmoud Abbas, a former prime minister and the PLO's No. 2. If Abbas were to get the nod from the PLO leaders, it would put him in a strong position to take the reins of power, at least in an interim period.
Abbas has been acting as caretaker leader, along with Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia.
Parliament was to convene at noon to swear in Fattouh. Officials initially said the swearing-in was to begin at 11 a.m. but it was delayed by an hour to give more legislators from across the West Bank to arrive. Legislators in the Gaza Strip were to join by video conference.
Palestinian officials have said they would do avoid a power struggle. "We can be certain transition will be smooth, and the Palestinian people deserve to have free and fair elections," Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat told The Associated Press.
Fattouh, 55, grew up in the Rafah refugee camp in Gaza. He left Gaza for studies abroad in the 1960s, joined Fatah in 1968 and returned from exile in 1994, along with Arafat and other Palestinian officials.
In the first Palestinian general elections in 1996, he was elected to the parliament on a Fatah slate. In 2003, he was appointed agriculture minister, and a year later was chosen speaker, replacing Qureia who became prime minister.
Fattouh is a midlevel Fatah activist, and did not rise to prominence in parliament. He was chosen as speaker as a compromise candidate.