BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- A majority of Palestinians in the occupied territories favor jailed activist Marwan Barghouthi as a candidate in upcoming presidential elections, a public opinion survey released on Thursday said.
The poll also revealed that 80 percent of Palestinians thought elections would "certainly" or "likely" be held within six months of the expected formation of the unity government next week, and almost 40 percent of respondents said they planned to vote for Fatah.
The results come after a 10-day survey conducted by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion polled just over 1,000 Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.
The survey, which is one of the first to be conducted in the occupied Palestinian territories since the signing of a national reconciliation agreement between the two main Palestinian political parties, Fatah and Hamas, at the end of April, highlights a growing sense of optimism that the deal will hold.
It also reveals growing dissatisfaction with political leaders who have been charge since the last round of elections in 2006, and an interest in giving one of the most prominent Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails a chance at ruling.
President of the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion Nabil Kukail stressed that the survey showed that the "overwhelming majority of the Palestinian public" believes Marwan Barghouthi to be a favorite in upcoming elections.
"It is time that Mr. Barghouthi be released from prison to give him the opportunity to (run as a) candidate for the next presidential elections," Kukail said in a statement.
Barghouthi was a leader in the First and Second Intifadas and has become a symbol of the Palestinian national cause. He is sometimes referred to as the "Palestinian Mandela" for his role as a uniting figure in the movement.
The survey polled respondents on a number of potential pair-ups for the presidential elections, including between current president Mahmoud Abbas and Gaza prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, Marwan Barghouthi and Ismail Haniyeh, Abbas and Barghouthi, as well as Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal and Barghouthi.
In all of the pair-ups where Barghouthi was present, respondents favored him to other candidates.
The survey also revealed a dramatic fall in popularity for the Islamist party Hamas, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since it kicked Fatah out after it accused the group of a US-supported coup attempt in 2006.
When respondents were polled on who they expected to win if elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council were held now, 39 percent said Fatah, 16 percent said Hamas, 12 percent said other parties, 11 percent said independents, and the rest said that they would either not participate or had not yet decided.
Survey respondents were from across the occupied Palestinian territories, including around two-thirds in the West Bank and one-third in the Gaza Strip, and participation was split almost evenly between female and male respondents.
The survey did not, however, take into account the more than nine million Palestinians living as refugees, in the diaspora, or inside Israel, who could potentially be included as part of Palestinian elections in the future.