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Analysts See Palestinian Elections as Positive Step for Region

While Palestinians are going to the polls to replace the late Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat, political analysts in the region say the implication of the election reaches far beyond the Palestinian territories. Many analysts believe the election will have a positive impact on other Arab states where elections are scheduled to be held this year.

According to political analysts in the Arab world, regional interest in the Palestinian election is not focused on who will win. Rather, they say, Arabs are paying more attention to the fact that the election is being held at all.

According to the head of the political science department at Lebanese-American University in Beirut, Sami Baroudi, the election is helping to show the rest of the Arab world that even during times of political, social and economic turmoil, elections can be held.

"I think most citizens, when they see elections are being held despite all the difficult conditions in Palestine, the occupation and everything, that would probably be a sign that in our society we can also have elections," he said. "So, I think most people appreciate that those elections are taking place. How much they think there is really a choice available for the Palestinians, I would say there is a question. But, I do not see anybody in the Arab world objecting to the notion of elections taking place."

"To my mind, in fact, I feel it is important for the Palestinians to show the Arab world that even the Palestinians, who are under occupation, are practicing democracy, and they have transparency and the international community is observing the credibility of the process of the elections," said Abdullah al-Ashaal, former Egyptian ambassador and expert on Arab relations.

Mr. al-Ashaal says the Palestinian elections are an important benchmark for the rest of the Arab world, especially in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, where voters in those countries will also being going to the polls this year. Mr. al-Ashaal says the Palestinian elections should help boost voter morale in Iraq by showing that legal elections can be held during difficult times.

He says the citizens of Saudi Arabia, who will participate in their first-ever municipal elections later this year, will be able to learn more about how to conduct elections that will be seen as having been transparent.

According to the director of the al-Quds Center for Political Studies in Jordan, Uraib al-Rantawi, everyone in the region stands to gain from the Palestinian elections.

"It will open the gate for the reform and democratization process among the Palestinian society and the Palestinian Authority, from inside. And, it also has historical meaning concerning the peace process because I do believe that after the elections, a window of opportunity for the progress of the Middle East peace process will open," he said. "And, I think it is a great chance for the Palestinian people to create their newly elected leadership and to establish what is needed by the Palestinian community itself, and the international community."

Mr. al-Rantawi says anytime there are elections held in the region, the entire Arab world watches closely because, he says, everyone hopes the elections will help take the region another step toward greater democracy.