JERUSALEM — In another change of course, the wife of jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti filed papers Wednesday night registering him as a candidate for president of the Palestinian Authority.
The move -- following declarations last week that Barghouti would run, then that he would not -- adds a wild card element to a race that was expected to be dominated by Mahmoud Abbas, the new chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The announcement of Barghouti's independent candidacy came as a spokesman for Hamas said it was urging its members to boycott the Jan. 9 election. The militant group previously signaled that it would not field a candidate for president, because it rejects the Palestinian Authority as an outgrowth of the 1993 Oslo accords negotiated with Israel, which it does not accept.
Hamas instead called for consolidating elections for president, the Palestinian parliament and municipal seats. The organization plans to compete in the parliamentary elections, which are tentatively scheduled for May, and in the municipal balloting, which begins this month in some locations.
Hamas has tens of thousands of supporters, and a widespread boycott would hurt the winner's claims to legitimacy.
"We are not calling on the Palestinian people to boycott the election, but Hamas members will follow the decision to boycott the election," said a spokesman, Ismail Haniyeh.
Barghouti, 45, a high-profile figure in the late Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, enjoys a grass-roots following that extends from his home base in the West Bank to the Gaza Strip.
Abbas, a former prime minister, was nominated last week by Fatah, the PLO's ruling faction, making him the instant front-runner.
But Abbas, 69, lacks the popularity of Barghouti, who is serving five consecutive life sentences in an Israeli prison in connection with the deaths of five people in militant attacks. He denied the charges but refused to mount a defense.
Barghouti's wife, Fadwa, filed candidate papers, including signatures by 5,000 registered voters, after meeting with her husband Wednesday in the prison. His backers also paid the required $3,000 deposit. The filing deadline was midnight. The position became vacant when Arafat died last month.
She told reporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah that her husband hoped to represent the uprising, or intifada, and the Arafat legacy.
At least six other people have expressed interest in running.
Fatah leaders condemned Barghouti's decision to run. The Martyr Yasser Arafat Brigade, formerly known as Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a militia loosely tied to Fatah, has affirmed its support for Abbas.
It remains unclear how the imprisoned Barghouti would serve as president if elected. Israeli officials say they have no intention of freeing him.
Last week, Barghouti's associates said he planned to run, dismaying many Fatah members who feared a rift between old guard backers of Abbas and the younger generation that admires Barghouti.
The next day, Friday, a spokesman said Barghouti had changed his mind in order to maintain party unity.
Wednesday's turn came as Abbas was launching his presidential campaign.
Special correspondent Maher Abukhater in Ramallah contributed to this report.