Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia has ordered preparations to begin for general elections by the middle of next year. The Palestinian parliament and presidency have exceeded their elected terms by more than three years.
Meeting with members of the Palestinian Authority's elections committee, Mr. Qureia said he would like to hold the election by June 2004.
He called for a new election law to be drafted and for the the registry of eligible voters to be updated.
The election committee issued figures showing that the number of Palestinian voters is estimated to have risen from 1.0 million in 1996 to 1.6 million this year. The first and only elections for the Palestinian presidency and the 88-member Palestinian Legislative Council were held in 1996.
That ballot saw Yasser Arafat elected as president to serve, along with his parliament, for four years. When their terms expired, no new elections were held.
Mr. Qureia told a meeting of his new cabinet in the West Bank city of Ramallah last week that the elections are on the top of his agenda.
He criticized Palestinian lawmakers who seemed to believe that they had a right to remain in parliament, without ever having their popularity tested by the electorate.
Mr. Qureia said some members of the Palestinian Legislative Council had told him they regarded their seats as fixed and that no one had the right to replace them.
Mr. Qureia said their first duty should be to seek fresh elections to ensure the parliament is legitimate in the eyes of the Palestinian people.
He is hoping to get support for new elections from the United States and the European Union. He says the international community will have to put pressure on Israel to ease its military restrictions of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to enable a free and fair vote.