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Palestinian Authority to Hold Presidential Elections - 2002-05-16

The Palestinian Legislative Council voted unanimously Thursday to hold elections early next year for the position of president, which is currently held by Yasser Arafat. In another surprise decision, the legislative council voted to name a new Palestinian cabinet within 45 days and to hold parliamentary and local elections within one year.

Under a series of sweeping reforms passed unanimously by the Palestinian Legislative Council, Yasser Arafat will be forced to seek re-election as president of the Palestinian Authority.

The council ruled the vote must take place by March of next year.

Elections are also to be held within a year for the parliament, which was first elected in 1996. The council also called for elections for local government offices, which have never been held previously in Palestinian areas.

While the legislators did not set a date for the resignation of the cabinet, they did say that an entirely new cabinet would have to be appointed within 45 days.

Although the council's moves directly follow calls by Mr. Arafat for reform, they are likely to be seen as the first significant challenge to his authority since the establishment of the parliament in 1996.

Mr. Arafat is facing pressure from within the Palestinian territories as well as from the United States and Israel, to reform what many regard as an administration riddled with corruption.

Not all of the 88 members of the legislative council were able to attend the sessions, which were held simultaneously in Gaza City and Ramallah in the West Bank.

Communications between the two cities were made possible through video-conference, making debate between the members difficult.

The resolution passed by the parliament was presented in the form of a letter to Mr. Arafat.

He has the final say on whether any decision of the parliament will be implemented.