Initial polling results indicate that around 54.8 percent of Palestinians eligible to vote took part in Saturday’s local elections, head of the Central Elections Committee Hanna Nasser said.
Around 277,153 out of 505,006 eligible voters turned out to cast their ballots in 838 polling stations across the West Bank, Nasser told Ma’an.
The highest voter turnout was in the Salfit district, where 68.5 percent of people voted. Reflecting the clout of Hamas’ boycott call, voter turnout in Hebron, an Islamist political bastion, was just 33.7 percent.
“I heard that the Fatah bloc was made up of good people, so I voted for them,” said Amani, 29, who declined to give her last name, drying with tissue her index finger dipped in the indelible purple ink of the voting stations.
“I think in the end all parties have their own political and financial interest in mind. But it is my duty to vote, and so I can say that I’ve done my part,” she said.
PA leaders applaud vote
Palestinian Authority leaders on Saturday celebrated holding local elections in the West Bank for the first time in six years, downplaying the boycott by their Hamas rivals.
“We hope we will be regarded by our brothers in Gaza and everywhere in the Arab world as the ones who first embarked upon democracy, and we continue on this path and we hope everyone will follow us,” President Abbas told journalists.
PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad told Ma’an he was optimistic the poll would be followed by national elections, after casting his vote in his home county Tulkarem.
He denied that the elections would entrench the division between the West Bank and Gaza. “It’s time to get over the split… it was a complicated election but there shouldn’t be any excuses to prevent it going ahead,” he told Ma’an.
Hamas boycotted Saturday’s election, saying persecution of its members would prevent a fair vote.
Palestinians first held parliamentary elections in 1995, rare among Arab countries at the time and a positive step after the interim Oslo peace accords with Israel the previous year, which have long lapsed and become an albatross for the same, sclerotic Palestinian leadership of the present day.
Local council elections were held in stages in 2005, but never completed after Hamas’ electoral victory a year later prompted inter-factional fighting that split the West Bank and Gaza.
Hamas’ concerns on the political context have been backed up by human rights groups.
While supporting democratic transition amid long-overdue polls, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights said this week the conditions necessary for a transparent, fair election have not been met.
It 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.”
Rights advocates have also emphasized limitations on choice, even without Hamas participating. Saturday’s poll is taking place in just 92 of the 353 municipalities in the West Bank.
No eligible lists of candidates have registered in another 78 districts, and a second round of elections will be held on Nov. 24 in these areas.
Meanwhile, 181 electoral districts will be automatically allocated because only one electoral list registered.
But procedurally, the central elections commission has emphasized the poll is under close scrutiny by thousands of observers, and the PA notes Palestinian law allows local elections to take place in stages.
UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry said he hopes the vote “will re-establish elections as a crucial component of an inclusive, democratic process and will serve as a prelude to general elections being organized next year in all of the occupied Palestinian territory in the context of reconciliation.”
Preliminary results will be announced at 4 p.m. on Sunday, with full results expected on Tuesday.