Some 515,000 Palestinians have registered to vote in Saturday’s municipal elections in the West Bank, Central Elections Commission director Hisham Khahil said Thursday.
At a news conference in Ramallah, CEC chief Hanna Nasser said 10,000 members of police and security forces had registered to vote on Thursday in an early ballot so they could secure the electoral process on Saturday.
Only 40 percent of security force members were eligible to vote early. Others, in localities with fewer than 150 officers, will vote with their communities on Saturday so their ballots will not be identifiable.
Political campaigning officially ended on Thursday as polling stations prepare for elections in 92 of the 353 municipalities in the West Bank. In 78 districts, no candidates stood for election and in other districts only one list ran uncontested.
Saturday’s vote will be supervised by more than 4,600 party representatives, 1,890 local observers, 550 journalists and 130 international observers and guests, the CEC says.
Counting will commence at the end of voting on Saturday.
Rights groups concerned
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights on Thursday expressed “deep concern” over the holding of local elections “in light of the limiting of public freedoms and continuing widespread violations of human rights by the PA.”
The ongoing split between Fatah, which leads the PA in the West Bank, and Hamas, which governs Gaza, has led “to wide-scale violations of human rights and public freedoms by the authorities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and by their security services.”
Hamas is boycotting the election and preventing voting from taking place in the Gaza Strip. It has accused Fatah of harassing Hamas members in the West Bank.
Hamas took control of many municipal councils in the West Bank and Gaza in the last local vote in 2005. The Islamist movement went on to win legislative elections the following year.
PCHR noted that elections were overdue and stressed its “total support for the process of democratic transition in the Palestinian Authority.”
But, it said, the conditions necessary for a transparent, fair election that guarantees the will of the electorate were not met in the West Bank.
“These conditions include, in particular, the protection of public freedoms, including the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the right to peaceful assembly, the right to form associations, freedom of the press, the release of political detainees, and an end to restrictions placed on political activities.”
Issam Abdeen, a legal consultant at Human Rights group al-Haq also said conditions weren’t suitable for an election.
“The sound basis for any election to take place is a healthy, political atmosphere … which is clearly lacking here,” he told Reuters.