Challenges facing the winner
BELOW are some of the challenges the winner will face:
Violence: Ending violence will be key to negotiations, but Islamic militants bent on wiping out Israel have rejected calls from Abbas for an end to armed struggle. Even fighters from his Fatah movement appear lukewarm.
Co-opting militants is the option favoured by Abbas. But if that failed, a Palestinian president would have little choice but to use force or abandon hope of peace progress. A halt to attacks that Abbas brokered in 2003 collapsed in weeks.
The task will be much more difficult if Israel keeps up raids into the West Bank and Gaza, but that is itself partly dependent on whether attacks continue in the Middle Eastís cycle of bloodshed.
Talks with Israel: Both Israel and the Palestinians will be under diplomatic pressure for a high-profile summit after the election.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has held out the prospect of coordinating his plan for withdrawing settlers from the Gaza Strip, but Palestinians still fear it is a ruse to keep a stronger Israeli hold on the West Bank. Abbas has insisted coordination on Gaza depends on whether it is a clear step towards broader negotiations for statehood.
Internal reform: There are strong demands at home and from abroad to reform and revive a Palestinian Authority laid waste not only by the past four years of conflict but also by mismanagement, corruption and cronyism. The Palestinian president will need to challenge an old guard of officials, Fatah movement leaders and security bosses who have prospered in power and are under pressure from a younger generation that sees them as out of touch.
Economic crisis: Between 1999 and 2003, annual Palestinian per capita income is estimated to have dropped by about one third to a little over $1,100. In the same period, unemployment rates rose from 10 percent to 26 percent, according to the World Bank. An extra $500m a year from donors is possibly on the table for the Palestinian Authority, on top of current funding of about $900m a year, but this depends on ending violence and internal reform. reuters