UPDATE: It has just been announced that Mahmoud Abbas will give a press conference in the Muqata’a in Ramallah at 1:00 this afternoon — in about two hours’ time.

Apparently, the vote-counting for the important Central Committee seats has been completed, but the picture is not any prettier.

(At one point, a Fatah delegate told me, some ballot envelopes for the Central Committee had been put into the ballot boxes for the larger Revolutionary Council, and when they were discovered — the counting for the Central Committee was done first — they had to be added into the totals. Media sources then reported “rumors” that the contents of one ballot box was also entirely recounted…)

But, the net sum total of all this is that it turns out there was a tie for the 18th seat.

Last week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced that there would be exactly 18 seats up for election.

Yesterday, when the tie was discovered, the head of the Fatah election commission announced that in accordance with a [new] decision from Abbas, the two tied candidates would both be admitted, making a 19-member elected Central Committee — just like that.

Abbas himself was nominated without prior announcement as party leader in a plenary session on Saturday, and this passed by acclamation, making him a 20th member of the Central Committee.

It is widely understood — there is no better way to explain this at the moment — that the Fatah Central Committee would have a total of 23 members. In his announcement that launched the elections process last week, Abbas indicated that there would be a few seats whose holders he would nominate [after the elections, allowing a certain margain for political largesse or punishment]- Those nominations that Abbas would make would then have to gain the “approval” of two-thirds of the new Central Council and the “accord” of two-thirds of the new Revolutionary Council [counting for that body may or may not be in a recount phase, but in any case it is expected to continue until tomorrow, Friday].

What is not clear is whether this new announcement of 19 elected Central Committee members would mean that Abbas would thus only name three appointed members, or whether there would suddenly be a decision to name a couple of more appointed members as well. After all, there are a number of ruffled political feathers that need smoothing and soothing …

In any case, the larger Revolutionary Council would also have some members appointed in the same way, but this is of lesser interest.

In addition, it appears that it is also possible for Abbas to name some “observers” to both bodies.

Meanwhile, there has still been no closure of the Fatah Sixth General Conference, which opened in Bethlehem on 4 August.

Today’s Jerusalem Post reported that “Senior Fatah leaders in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday demanded an investigation into alleged fraud in this week’s election for the faction’s central committee. Meanwhile, the final results of the vote, which were announced late Wednesday at a press conference in Bethlehem, gave another seat to Tayeb Abdel Rahim, an old-guard Fatah leader and close aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The announcement had been delayed following requests from some candidates to hold a recount of the votes …
Ibrahim Abu al-Naja, a Fatah leader from the Gaza Strip, said that many delegates from his area had been denied the right to cast their ballots in the election. Abu al-Naja, one of the candidates who were not elected to the Central Committee, called on the Fatah leadership to reconsider the decision to hold the vote without the participation of dozens of delegates from the Gaza Strip. But another senior Fatah official from the Gaza Strip, Zakaria al-Agha, said the mass resignations were in accordance with the faction’s internal regulations and not an act of protest … Many Fatah representatives in the Gaza Strip expressed skepticism over the voting process and said it was ‘inconceivable’ that nearly all the members of the Central Committee were from the West Bank. One of the representatives, Ahmed Nasr, accused unnamed parties of tampering with the results of the vote. He, too, failed to win a seat on the committee. ‘The results were changed so as to serve the interests of operatives with political and financial influence’, he said. ‘We have no doubt that there was forgery’.” This article can be read in full here.

There were several extensions of the voting deadline to allow full participation of the Fatah delegates who were stranded or blockaded in Gaza. Abu al-Naja was actually one delegate who managed to travel to Bethlehem, but he then returned before the Fatah conference officially opened, for reasons that were publicly explained as a protest against the inability of all the invited Fatah delegates from Gaza to attend.

It is clear that Israeli “coordination” facilitated the attendance of a number of Gaza delegates — I met some who arrived in Bethlehem on the morning of the opening session. Israel inexplicably closed all of the border crossings it controls for the three days prior to the Bethlehem conference (and some “coordinated” movement of Fatah delegates took place during that time).

The issue of the voting by Gazan delegates took a very large proportion of the time of the General Conference. A decision on a simultaneous procedure was made after a determination that some 350 out of s9me 500 Gazan delegates were present at the Sixth Fatah Conference in Bethlehem (though it is true that a large number of those 350 in Bethlehem had not been in Gaza for a while, and that some of them were living in Ramallah after having been evacuated following the Hamas rout of Fatah/Palestinian Preventive Security Forces in mid-June 2007).

On the weekend, the official Conference spokesperson Nabil Amr said — before leaving for scheduled medical treatment abroad — that it was very important that there be no objections to the election process, or to its results. He also indicated that there could be no criticism of the treatment of the voting from the delegates in Gaza.

What is not entirely clear is the procedure by which the Fatah delegates in Gaza actually voted — in particular, (1) how the secrecy of their ballots would be preserved, and (2) how fraud, including any surreptitious changing of their actual votes, was prevented.

Meanwhile, Ma’an News Agency in Bethlehem reported today — in an apparent effort to deal with inconsistencies [not necessarily their own] that they had reported earlier — The confusion came after Fatah’s Palestinian Authority-linked establishment suffered major upsets in the leadership vote. Top peace negotiator Ahmad Quriea, who was in the top 20 at first count, remains ousted in the unexpectedly competitive race for 18 elected seats on the 23-member committee. Others, including jailed resistance leader Marwan Barghouthi and controversial former Gaza strongman Muhammad Dahlan, won seats for the first time. In late July sources said Abdul Rahim had decided not to stand for election to Fatah’s Central Committee, noting he hoped to make room for younger leaders to step up. The Fatah leader had earlier described the younger generation of Fatah as the ‘spine of the Palestinian national project’. According to the same sources, Abdul-Rahim was set to become a member of a new governing entity Fatah intended to form called the Higher Council, or Advisors’ Council. No such council has yet been made public, and no further mention of any higher council has been made. Sources said Abdul Rahim nominated himself for the Central Committee the morning of the vote. Following the first round of vote counting observers speculated that Abdul Rahim would be one of those four members appointed by the committee following elections. Vote counting for Fatah’s second-highest governing body, the Revolutionary Council, started on Wednesday morning and will last three days, according to Munir Salameh, the executive director of the Fatah congress in Bethlehem. An elected member of the movement’s top body, the Central Committee, Muhammad Al-Madani, said counting would take a significant period of time because of the large number of candidates (617) and large number of voters (2,241). He also said that the vote count would take place under the supervision of the party’s election committee along with monitors”. This can be read in full here.

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