Blow to Fatah in West Bank local elections

image captionThe Carter Center, an election-monitoring group, said the polls were well-administered

Palestinian voters in the West Bank have delivered an apparent blow to the Fatah movement in local elections.

Fatah won two-fifths of the seats contested on Saturday. But lists led by party rebels gained control of four of the 11 major towns and cities. In a fifth, independents and leftists won.

A Fatah spokesman said the results showed "huge support for the party".

Turnout for the first Palestinian polls in more than six years was 55%, amid a boycott by the rival Hamas movement.

Three-quarters of eligible voters turned out for the 2006 parliamentary elections and two-thirds for the municipal elections in 2004 and 2005.

Hamas said political reconciliation needed to be achieved before any elections could be held, and no voting took place in the Gaza Strip, which the Islamist movement has governed since 2007.

There were also no elections organised in more than half of the 352 municipalities in the West Bank because of a lack of candidates. Elections in the remaining 82 areas will be held on 24 November.

'Limited competition'

The majority of the contests in the 93 municipalities on Saturday were between Fatah members, former Fatah members running on independent lists after being expelled for running against official candidates, and representatives of various left-wing groups.

Preliminary results released by the Central Elections Commission showed Fatah's Independence and Development list, backed by President Mahmoud Abbas, winning 440 of the 1,051 seats contested.

But in Ramallah, the seat of government for the Palestinian Authority, and Jenin, independent lists headed by Fatah breakaways beat the Fatah list.

It was a similar picture in Nablus where the list headed by Ghassan Shakaa, a former Fatah and Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) leader, beat that of Amin Maqbul, the official Fatah candidate.

Mr Shakaa, a former mayor of the city who quit Fatah because of disagreements over the selection of candidates, said the election results showed the party was out of touch with ordinary Palestinians.

"Fatah made the same old mistakes," he told the Associated Press.

image captionPalestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas described the polls as a "democratic wedding"

In Bethlehem, where leftists and independents won 9 seats and Fatah 8, a woman, Vera Baboun, is poised to become mayor.

Maysoun Qawasmi, who led an all-women list in Hebron, won 493 votes, which was not enough to secure a seat on the city's council.

A Fatah spokesman said the results signalled "huge support for the party and its programme".

But Hamas MP Ahmed Attoun claimed they represented a "victory for the Islamist currents which called for a boycott of these elections".

"It shows the Palestinian people stand with the choice of having elections based on a national consensus," he told the Reuters news agency.

There were also protests against the Fatah-dominated PA in the West Bank last month when the government withheld civil servants' salaries and increased fuel prices as it struggled with a funding crisis.

The Carter Center, a US-based election-monitoring group, said Saturday's polls were well-administered, but "marked by a lack of political pluralism and limited competition".

"Despite these challenges, and considering that elections at all levels in the occupied Palestinian territories are long overdue, these polls are a positive but limited step towards the realisation of democratisation in the occupied Palestinian territories," it added.

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