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Arafat Scores Resounding Victory In Race For Palestinian Presidency Landslide Gives Plo Chief Mandate For Peace Process

Winning 88 percent of the vote, Yasser Arafat emerged Sunday from the first Palestinian election with a resounding mandate to complete peace with Israel and lead his people to independence.

Final results of the race for presidency released by the Central Election Commission late Sunday gave Arafat 88.1 percent of the total vote and his opponent Samiha Khalil 9.3 percent. Officials said that 2.6 percent of the ballot slips were invalid.

“I am very proud of this very important historic democratic election in which a very high majority of our people have participated,” Arafat told reporters after the results were announced. “We hope that (it) will be one of the most important efforts on the way to an independent Palestinian state.”

Arafat loyalists will also control the newly elected 88-member Palestinian parliament, though they may have to share some power with uprising activists, outspoken women and other independents who until now were shut out of decision-making.

At least 50 of the legislators were members of Arafat’s Fatah faction, including 10 who had served in his appointed interim Cabinet, according to unofficial results released Sunday night. Official results were expected Monday.

Despite the historic event, the mood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip was subdued Sunday as Palestinians began to observe the Muslim holy month of Ramadan with dawn-to-dusk fasting.

Winners postponed celebrations until after the “iftar,” the festive meal that breaks the fast after sundown.

Arafat will convene the legislature for the first time after Ramadan ends, said spokesman Nabil Abu Irdeineh. That date was not yet set.

Arafat joked Sunday about his landslide victory, suggesting a lower rate of approval would probably have looked more democratic. “I was looking for 51 percent,” Arafat said after meeting with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who led a 40-member election observer team.