Gazans vote in municipal polls

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have cast their ballots in the first municipal elections in decades in this part of the Occupied Territories.

    Thousands of Palestinians turned up to vote in Thursday's election

    Thousands of Palestinians on Thursday turned up at voting booths in 10

    districts in the Gaza Strip, including the northern town of Bait Hanun,

    devastated by Israeli incursions.

    The Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, which for the first time has

    candidates running in Gaza, is expected to sweep the elections.

    Ahmad al-Kurd, director of the Islamic Benevolence Society and Hamas

    candidate for the district of Dair al-Balah, said he is confident of his party's

    success and that the elections will bring change.

    "More people have turned up here than for presidential elections: people are

    incredibly receptive to the idea," he told Aljazeera.net.

    "I believe most of them, at least in Dair al-Balah, are voting for [Hamas] 'Reform

    and change' banner, for obvious reasons."
     
    List of needs

    In the northern Gaza Strip village of Bait Hanun, the target of many recent

    Israeli incursions that have destroyed its infrastructure and uprooted more than

    60% of its olive and citrus groves, throngs of Palestinians of all ages could be

    seen lining up to cast ballots.

    One voter, Suad al-Kafarna, said she had a list of needs she hoped would be

    met by the winning candidates.

    Big crowds of people of all ages
    waited for their turn to vote

    "We need a good hospital in Bait Hanun. We need sewers, so our children can

    walk on the streets without getting sick. And we need a solution to the

    staggering unemployment," al-Kafarna, who lives in one of Bait Hanun's most

    neglected neighborhoods, said.

    Amani Shareef, 21, added: "This is a chance that doesn't come around often for

    the Palestinian people, and we should take the opportunity to participate in

    building our nation."

    "What I want, simply, is security, and end to corruption, and a better life for

    our children. I want our children to feel like other children, to feel what freedom

    is," she said.

    Voters were optimistic that the new councils would change their living

    conditions for the better, with corruption and dismal social services topping

    their lists of concerns.

    Hope in change

    "I voted for [Hamas] because we haven't tried them out before. We've tried all

    the others, and they only brought us corruption," Muhammad Abu Arbeed, 68,

    said, referring to the municipal councils' years of domination by the late Yasir

    Arafat's Fatah movement.

    Voters hope their needs would be
    met by the winning candidates

    "Everyone has hope in change, but a great number don't know where their

    interests lie. They say they are against corruption, then go right towards those

    that are involved in it. We are a devastated society, with many people unable

    to find a loaf of bread to eat. We need change."

    Khalila al-Masri, 80, who with the help of her grandson trudged to the voting

    centre, said she has lived through too many decades of war and destruction in

    the Gaza Strip to pass up this opportunity.

    "What I want from these elections is to see the good people voted in, not the

    people who will only bring us more harm and corruption. We want people who

    can help us move forward, to develop our downtrodden neighbourhoods. And we

    all know who those people are," she said.

    Without hitch

    Usama Abu-Safiya, of the High Commission for Local Elections in Gaza, said the

    elections were proceeding smoothly.

    "The head of the commission, Jamal Shobaki, has been observing the election

    process in the various districts, with no violations or problems to report so far.

    Hamas is confident of sweeping
    the municial elections in Gaza

    The elections are all proceeding extremely well," he said.

    The elections follow a 9 January presidential vote that saw Mahmud Abbas

    chosen as the head of the Palestinian Authority, and West Bank municipal

    elections in which Hamas took control of several key villages and towns last

    month.

    In the first in a series of Gaza municipal elections, 414 candidates, including 168

    women, are running for 118 municipal council seats. An unofficially tally is

    expected by midnight Thursday, and official results are to be announced on

    Friday.

    Palestinian parliamentary elections are expected to be held in July.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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