RAMALLAH, West Bank – The interim Palestinian leader promised to hold internal elections in the ruling Fatah movement (search), meeting a long-standing demand by younger activists who had been excluded during Yasser Arafat's (search) rule, a Cabinet minister said Friday.
The interim leader, Mahmoud Abbas (search), promised to set a date for such elections this weekend, said Palestinian Cabinet minister Kadoura Fares. Abbas' promise was seen as attempt to persuade the leader of the young guard, Marwan Barghouti, to withdraw his bid for Palestinian Authority president in Jan. 9 elections.
Barghouti told associates Thursday he plans to challenge Abbas, who was nominated as the presidential candidate by Fatah's old guard. Polls indicate Barghouti is the most popular Palestinian politician, and his candidacy would severely undermine the prospects of Abbas, a moderate.
Fares said he was en route to Barghouti's prison cell on Friday to deliver Abbas' message.
The last internal election in Fatah, or general conference, was held in 1988. Since then, younger activists have repeatedly demanded internal elections, but Arafat resisted.
The key decision-making bodies in Fatah are controlled by older politicians who returned with Arafat from exile in 1994. The younger activists who grew up in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and led two uprisings against Israel were largely excluded from power.