Palestinians approve 36 candidate groups to run in May vote

Palestinian election officials announced Sunday that 36 candidate lists had been approved to run in legislative elections set for next month, the first Palestinian polls in 15 years.

The vote, which precedes a presidential election called for July 31, is part of an effort by the dominant Palestinian movements — Fatah secularists and Hamas Islamists — to boost international support for Palestinian governance.

Groups had until Wednesday to submit their lists of candidates to contest in the May 22 legislative polls.

Individual names on each list are due to be published Tuesday, but the Palestinian electoral commission announced on its website that it had approved all 36 applications.

President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement, which controls the Palestinian Authority in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, is contesting the polls, as is Hamas, which has run the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip since 2007.

Fatah is facing challenges from dissident factions including the Freedom list, led by a nephew of the late Palestinian icon Yasser Arafat, Nasser al-Kidwa.

Freedom has been endorsed by Marwan Barghouti, a popular leader whom supporters have described as the Palestinian Mandela.

Barghouti is serving multiple life sentences in Israel for allegedly organizing deadly attacks during the second Palestinian intifada (uprising) from 2000-2005.

Abbas’s former Gaza security chief, Mohammed Dahlan, who is currently in exile in Abu Dhabi, is also backing a list of challengers.

Former Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad, an ex-World Bank official with a track record of fighting corruption, is supporting another.

While Fatah and Hamas have reached an agreement for voting to take place in the West Bank and Gaza, the ability of Palestinians in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem to vote remains uncertain.

Israel bans all Palestinian political activity in Jerusalem, but Palestinian leaders insist voting be held in the city’s east, which they claim as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

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