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Arafat Sets Elections for January 20 - 2002-09-11

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has set presidential and parliamentary elections for January 20. There has been growing opposition to Mr. Arafat's style of rule within the Palestinian legislature.

Palestinians in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Jerusalem will go to the polls in January to elect the head of the Palestinian National Authority and members of the Legislative Council.

The election date was announced during the Palestinian parliament session in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The decision heads off a no-confidence vote that was to be held later in the day. Many lawmakers felt Mr. Arafat was not doing enough to get rid of ineffective and corrupt ministers.

The legislature was to vote on a new cabinet the Palestinian leader recently appointed, but a ballot on the whole cabinet appears unlikely to take place.

Mr. Arafat's government is now temporary and will serve only until the outcome of the January vote.

Israel and the United States have been pressuring Mr. Arafat to reform his administration, and step aside. Both countries had hoped that general elections some time down the road would result in a new Palestinian leadership.

It is widely thought that the earlier elections are held, the greater Mr. Arafat's chances are of winning the vote. An American embassy spokesman in Tel Aviv said the United States supports the Palestinians right to choose their own leaders. But he questioned the timing of the vote, suggesting more time may be needed to prepare.

While many Palestinians are increasingly critical of Mr. Arafat, they are even more critical of what they see as U.S. and Israeli efforts to push him aside and dictate who should lead the Palestinians and how.