An outpouring of support by Palestinians for Yasser Arafat appears to be countering the threat of expulsion by Israel. Thousands of people chanting his name have turned out at rallies across the Palestinian territories. Palestinian Liberation Organisation legal adviser Michael Terazi said yesterday the gatherings had been spontaneous and taken place in every town across the occupied territories despite an Israeli military presence. 'The support shown for Mr Arafat has been tremendous and overwhelming,' Mr Terazi said from the West Bank city of Ramallah, where the Palestinian leader gave a defiant speech on Thursday night to a crowd of thousands. 'It is what you would expect after an occupying power's threat to expel a democratically elected leader.' Mr Arafat has faced the electorate only once. Those elections, held in 1996 as part of the Oslo Accords for the creation of a Palestinian state, gave him 77 per cent of the vote and were judged free and fair by monitors including US former president Jimmy Carter. Although opinion polls have since shown similar levels of support, there is growing discontent with Mr Arafat's authoritarian style. Such opposition is being expressed across a wide spectrum of Palestinian society. One of the leading groups is the Palestinian National Initiative al-Mubadara, described by its secretary-general, Mustafa Barghouthi, as a 'political opposition democratic movement'. He launched the party 18 months ago because he believed more than half of Palestinians did not support either Mr Arafat's political movement, Fatah, or the extremist views of the Islamic resistance group Hamas. Dr Barghouthi, who is also the director of the Health Development Information and Policy Institute in Ramallah, said determining who Palestinians really wanted as their leaders through free elections would resolve what he deemed to be a 'crisis of legitimacy'. 'The only way to give the silent majority in Palestine an option to talk, express their views and participate in decision-making is through elections,' he said. The necessary conditions for polls would have to be created with an international presence so that Palestinians could freely vote without the restrictions on movement currently imposed by Israel. The Oslo agreements stipulated that elections should be held every three years for the local and legislative councils and the presidency, and polls took place for the last two branches of government in 1996. The incumbents did not step down to face re-election in May 1999 - a situation blamed on a lack of will for polls among Palestinian leaders and the Israeli government. Violence and the occupation have since made such an exercise impossible. Local councillors have not faced voters since 1976. Dr Barghouthi alleged Fatah would not sanction elections because it did not want to lose power. 'The population sees a great amount of mismanagement and corruption that must be fixed. Unfortunately, it cannot be unless we have free, democratic elections.' Naseer Aruri, a Palestinian-born American academic, did not believe groups like Mubadara had mass appeal. Palestinians opposed to their leaders' decisions constituted a strong minority, he said, but their views were not being channeled through any institutions. 'There is a good deal of opposition,' said Dr Aruri, a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. 'People in the West Bank and Gaza know that Oslo was a farce and was not going to succeed and that Israel has no intention of sharing sovereignty between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean sea.' Dr Aruri said a 'third way', or secular, nationalist opposition to Mr Arafat, was evident in the Palestinian terrorist network and among refugees and the diaspora. 'Unfortunately for the Palestinians, this has not been organised in such a way that a real third force rejecting the solutions that are really non-solutions has formed,' he said. 'So Arafat becomes the only game in town for a lot of that opposition.'