Ramallah (AFP) – Palestinians in the West Bank voted in local elections on Saturday in what was the first time they had gone to the polls since 2006.
Just over half a million eligible voters are expected to cast their ballots at around 340 polling centres across the West Bank which opened at 7:00 am (0500 GMT) and which will remain open for 12 hours, the Central Elections Commission (CEC) said.
A slow but steady trickle of people could be seen on the streets heading out to vote shortly after the polls opened, AFP correspondents said.
“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 in the air after voting at a boys’ school in Ramallah.
The last time the Palestinians went to the polls was in January 2006 for general elections which were decisively won by the Islamist Hamas movement, which rules the Gaza Strip, and which is refusing to take part in Saturday’s vote due to an ongoing dispute with the Fatah party of President Mahmud Abbas.
Local elections were last held in 2005.
A total of 4,696 candidates — almost 25 percent of them women — are running on 322 lists, vying for 1,064 local council seats. In the southern city of Hebron, one of the lists is all-female.
In another 181 localities, candidates were appointed unopposed, with elections to be held in the remaining areas on November 24, the CEC said.
The CEC said it had accredited 1,890 local and 130 international observers to monitor the vote.
At one school in El-Bireh near Ramallah, observers prevented a young man from voting because he was wearing a T-shirt backing one of the local lists, an AFP correspondent said.
He disappeared for a moment, then returned wearing it inside out, after which he was permitted to vote, she said.
The CEC has also for the first time implemented regulations barring voters from taking mobile phones or cameras into polling stations.
In the absence of Hamas candidates, the competition pits Fatah against independents and members of various leftist groups such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP).
It will be essentially be a test of discipline and the balance of forces within Fatah, which has already threatened to expel some of its members who are running on rival groups’ tickets.