Middle East

Palestinians elect a new 'president' on reality TV show

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Media captionReality TV show The President sees contestants compete for audience votes to win a mock title

A Palestinian reality TV show has given its audience the chance to do something they have not done for more than eight years - choose a new president.

The President was shown weekly on popular independent TV station, Maan.

Late on Wednesday, Hussein al-Deik, 31, from Ramallah was declared the winner of the audience vote.

He beat 1,200 young contestants to win the title. His prize was a car and the chance to travel as an unofficial Palestinian ambassador.

In real life the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, has to contend with a financial crisis, internal political divisions and stalled peace talks with Israel.

Twenty years after the Oslo peace accords were signed there is still not an independent Palestinian state.

But Mr al-Deik said he would still like the president's job.

"I want to send a message to all the world. The people of Palestine need to live in a Palestinian state, [we need] independence, like the other countries in the world and [to] stop the occupation in this land," he told the BBC.

During his virtual election campaign he said he would promote peaceful protests against Israel's occupation of the West Bank.

Diplomacy and 'assassinations'

The programme, which has been on-air since March, put candidates through their paces.

They were tested on their diplomatic skills and etiquette at a pretend dinner with foreign ambassadors.

In one episode they were invited to deliver a speech and then subjected to a mock assassination attempt.

Image caption Real politicians quizzed the contestants

Each week a panel of seasoned politicians questioned them on issues such as Israeli settlements, the struggling economy and events across the Middle East, such as the civil war in Syria.

Palestinian legislator, Hanan Ashrawi was one of the judges.

"I felt that in effect this is democracy in action, it is really a source of empowerment for the young generation," she said.

"It is an educational experience and it creates a sense among the youth that they really can do things, they can transform reality."

Parallel reality

In 20 years of limited self-rule, Palestinians have had just two presidential polls. The current president Mahmoud Abbas is 78 and remains in office several years after his term expired.

While the Arab uprisings have removed many long-time regional leaders, the Palestinians are stuck in a political limbo.

The rift between the main political factions: Fatah which rules parts of the West Bank, and Hamas, which governs Gaza, has prevented new elections.

The director of the Maan TV channel, Raed Othman, said his reality show has been popular because it allowed a form of civic participation.

Image caption The show's audience cast votes to decide the winner

"We tried to do it with the highest quality of democracy ever. In real life it doesn't happen in Palestine but we try to it like this," he says.

"There was criticism about corruption and a lot of criticism about Fatah and Hamas and [there] not being unity. These youth tell us in front of the camera what the street feels."

While the programme was on-air, two Palestinian prime ministers have resigned leaving a political vacuum in the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

However, last month a new deal was struck between Hamas and Fatah. They are supposed to form a technocratic government by August that will pave the way to fresh elections.

Still it looks unlikely that any vote will take place before The President is scheduled to return for a second season.