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RAMALLAH: Polling stations shut yesterday after 12 hours of voting in the first West Bank election since 2006, with voters casting ballots in a local poll that was boycotted by Hamas.
Shortly after the close, Hanna Nasser, chairman of the Central Elections Commission (CEC) said 277,000 out of the 505,600 eligible voters had cast ballots, putting turnout at 54.8 percent.
“The elections went very smoothly,” he told reporters in Ramallah, saying it went “much better than expected.” Preliminary results are due to be released at 1600 GMT today. The last time the Palestinians voted was in the general elections of January 2006 which the Islamist Hamas movement won by a landslide. Hamas also chalked up major wins during the last local elections in 2005, the first time it had participated in the democratic process.
But this time, Hamas refused to take part following the collapse of unity talks with the rival Fatah party of President Mahmoud Abbas, which dominates the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority.
In the absence of Hamas candidates, the competition pitted Fatah against independents and leftist groups such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). The vote was only held in 93 of the West Bank’s 354 municipalities, after candidates in another 179 localities were appointed unopposed.
Elections in the remaining 82 areas will be held on November 24, the CEC said. Ballots were being cast for some 2,647 candidates on Saturday, although the overall number participating in the municipal poll was 4,696 candidates — a quarter of them women — on 317 lists, vying for 1,051 local council seats, updated CEC statistics showed.
For some, the chance to vote was a welcome opportunity. “I came to vote in the elections, and I picked a good list for my city,” grinned 58-year-old Zuhra Badawi, excitedly waving her ink-stained index finger after voting in Ramallah.
In parts of Ramallah, roadworks blocked several streets and the stench of sewage filled the air as residents went out to decide who would be on the next municipal council charged with running the city, witnesses said.
“I haven’t voted yet because of work but I will definitely go and vote because change is good,” said a trader called Khalil. “We don’t want people to stick in their old positions any more.” But others were more cynical.
“I don’t expect much from these elections despite what I hoped for because there aren’t any qualified candidates,” complained 60-year-old Mohammed Zahdeh, from Hebron. “This is a farce, not an election,” said Abu Abdullah, a trader from Nablus.
“We want real elections that represent us, where people are capable of serving their country, and don’t just bandy around political slogans.” After voting at a school in El-Bireh near Ramallah, Abbas expressed disappointment that the election was not taking place in Gaza. “We hope our brothers in Hamas will let the democratic process take place in Gaza, not only for local elections but also for presidential and parliamentary elections,” he said. AFP