Palestinians vote in West Bank local elections

An election banner in Hebron, 17 October 2012

Local elections have been taking place in the West Bank, the first Palestinian polls in more than six years.

The elections have repeatedly been delayed. Hamas, the Islamist group that holds power in the Gaza Strip, is boycotting them.

More than half the West Bank constituencies are not being contested.

Candidates from President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah Party, which governs parts of the West Bank, face independents and dissidents.

Analysis

These elections are more than two years late. They are only happening in the West Bank, not in Gaza, and one of the two main parties is boycotting them. The vote has credibility issues.

They all stem from the ongoing division between Fatah, in power in parts of the West Bank and Hamas which governs in Gaza. The two main Palestinian factions have been promising to patch up their differences for years. They have not done so.

Hamas is boycotting the elections saying political reconciliation needs to be achieved first. President Mahmoud Abbas who leads Fatah decided to press ahead with the vote in the West Bank anyway. But more than half the constituencies will not be contested due to a lack of candidates.

In the run-up to the elections many Palestinians told me they were debating whether to bother voting or not. One question is whether independent parties will be able to do well at Fatah's expense. President Abbas's Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority has faced protests recently over rising fuel and food prices. Far from being a cause for celebration, most Palestinians regard this weekend 's vote as a symbol of how dysfunctional the political system here continues to be.

Members of various left-wing parties are also running.

The Central Elections Commission says preliminary results will be published by 16:00 (14:00 GMT) on Sunday.

The final results are due within 72 hours, the commission says, to allow time for processing objections.

The BBC's Jon Donnison reports from the West Bank that far from being a cause for celebration, most Palestinians regard this weekend's vote as a symbol of how dysfunctional their political system continues to be.

The Palestinian Authority, of which Mahmoud Abbas is president, has faced economic protests recently over rising fuel and food prices.

Lack of candidates

The first stage of the elections took place in 91 of the West Bank's 353 municipalities. Polls closed at 19:00 local time (17:00 GMT).

In 181 municipalities, councils were formed without elections due to a lack of candidates.

The Israeli military retains control of the West Bank, but the Palestinians have been given a degree of self-rule in some areas.

In Gaza, Hamas seized control in 2007, a year after winning a decisive victory in general elections. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 but maintains a blockade around the enclave.

An attempt at political reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, which could have led to elections being held in both the West Bank and Gaza, has come to nothing.

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