Wednesday, January 25, 2006

# Posted 7:06 AM by Patrick Belton  

AT THE OPENING OF POLLS IN NABLUS: In a city which has already known an election-related fatality (a man who attempted to stop several men from tearing down a poster of Hassan Al-Shaa'ka, former mayor of Nablus and first on its Fateh list; I was told of it just now by Al-Shaa'ka's niece), election day is proceeding as a street party. The mood on the Nablus street is festive, its sidewalks and alleys flooded with the tables and speakers of partisans with leaflets, its roads full of vans emblazoned with Hamas's green, Fateh's black and white chequer, or occasionally the PFLP's orange, its people good-natured and enjoying the pageantry. I spoke last night with a handful of strangers at an all-night roadside kiosk, where all were happily comparing their chosen candidates' buttons, and laughing. It is truly amazing the number of things than can be covered with green or chequer, caps, scarves, jumpers. The Hamas truck plays the chanting of the Qur'an, and inside an impromptu tent I speak with Hamed Abu Yamoush, who tells me they have not been doing get-out-the-vote manoeuvres, as they trust their supporters to come, and they are confident. Mehdi Al Faras casts the first vote in Nablus; he tells me on his way out that he casts it for Fateh, as leaders of the fight from beginning to end. The weather, now soured, began beautifully. There is a certain poignance to observing the ritual of the election room as I stand in it for the first hour of the day, as members of an Arab people cast ballots that are meaningful. Their fingers, too, are stained with indelible ink as they vote. One only hopes that the mood, if not the weather, can hold.
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Jimmy Carter is there as an observer. The stain and stench he brings will overwhelm any purple fingers.
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