Ramallah- A leadership congress of the Palestinian Fatah movement has unanimously re-elected President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday to a new five-year term.
Abbas was re-elected by consensus at the congress which was attended by some 1,400 delegates in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
”You today, in these historic times, are living the writing of modern history,” Abbas said as he opened the meeting, praising Fatah’s founders and the “martyrs who died along the path towards freedom and independence.”
The congress was supposed to be held two years ago, but political divisions, both within the party and between Fatah and the rival Islamist Hamas movement, led to repeated delays before Abbas fixed the date only a couple of months ago.
Since then, he has strived to sideline opposition, especially from Mohammed Dahlan, a former security chief and Fatah official who now lives in self-imposed exile in the Gulf, from where he has become a vocal and tireless Abbas critic.
While the elections are expected to bring some new faces into the leadership structure, the conference’s main purpose appears to be aimed at blocking the return of Abbas’ exiled rival, Mohammad Dahlan, who was ejected from the party.
The meeting, scheduled to last five days, will elect new faces to Fatah’s 21-member central committee, the party’s top decision-making body, and a new 80-person revolutionary council, a quasi-parliament.
With Dahlan frozen out, the elderly and predominantly male invitees are expected to vote in favor of Abbas, ensuring the 81-year-old president is shored up in his position, despite increasing whispers of criticism.
As Abbas, known as Abu Mazen, entered the congress, held inside the Muqata, the presidential complex in Ramallah, all the delegates rose to give him a standing ovation.
“Abu Mazen go forward, we are behind you until liberation!” chanted some sections of the hall.
Critics of Abbas, who has been in power for 11 years, say it is long overdue for him to nominate a successor. They also want new national elections: Abbas was elected to a four-year term in 2005, and the last parliamentary vote was in 2006.
Notably, the convention is to conclude with elections for 18 spots in the Central Committee, the top decision making body, and 80 members of the movement’s parliament, the Revolutionary Council.