Security forces vote in Palestinian poll

Palestinian security forces have begun casting their ballots four days ahead of scheduled legislative elections.

    Party supporters conduct last-minute campaigning

    The 58,708 registered voters in the security forces cast their ballots early in 14 designated polling centres across the West Bank and Gaza leaving them free to work on polling day.
     
    Overall, the mood at Gaza's two polling stations was excited and festive, with vendors selling juice and music blasting in the background.

    Crowds of Hamas supporters, who are in a dead-heat with rivals Fatah according to the latest prediction polls, stood at the gate of the polling centres, clad in caps and silently waving their trademark green flags, in a last-minute campaign effort.   

    Dozens of young Fatah supporters stood among them, throwing campaign material into passing taxis and cars and at voters walking into the polling station.
     
    Inside, dozens of voters crowded to get into the ballot rooms after being verified by election officials and monitors.

    Democratic day

    Ashraf Hillis, a member of the police force, after casting his anonymous ballot, said: "This is really a beautiful day; it is an expression of Palestinian democracy. I think the more parties included in the parliament, the better for all of us."
     

    Voters are bombarded with
    campaign literature

    Voters had few complaints, aside from grumbling about the permanent ink used to mark voters to prevent re-voting, and over the mass of campaign literature that littered the streets surrounding the polling station.
     
    "This ink on our fingers is a problem ... otherwise things went smoothly," said one plain-clothed member of the special forces.
     
    "I just voted Fatah blindly and left the polling centre," said one man, who works as a fruit vendor when off duty.

    "I don't care about the other parties and didn't bother to vote for individual candidates in districts either. Fatah is the only real party out there, and they put their best people up for election."  

    Shifting loyalties

    While the security forces are largely dominated by Fatah loyalists, there were some who voted for Hamas. 
     
    Tamir Yunis, 28, a police officer who works in a government hospital, said: "I did feel personal pressure to a certain extent at work to vote for Fatah, but I really felt that I wanted to try someone new out. Fatah has tried and failed by all standards, so I voted for Hamas."

    Hamas supporters hand out
    leaflets to voters

    Armed security officers clad in riot gear stood nearby patrolling the centre for potential problems.
     
    At the Palestine School, one of two polling stations being used for the security forces, an argument broke out between Palestinian election officials and a security officer whose name did not appear on the list of registered voters.  
     
    An election official told him: "We understand your grievances, and we respect the fact that you want to vote, but even though we know who you are, you simply can't. Your name isn't on here". A curious crowd gathered around while the security officer tore up his ballot and left the centre in protest.

    Monitors
     
    European Union (EU) observers were closely monitoring the voting, checking on each polling station after a ballot was cast, while some stood by observing the procedures to one side. 
     
    Mathias Eick, the EU's Election Observation Mission press officer, told Aljazeera.net that things appeared to be "running smoothly".
     

    A European Union election
    monitor at work 

    "We'll have to see as three days proceed what problems may arise depending on how it goes," he said.

    "It's very much 'let's watch and see' now, but we've gone to all the polling stations, and the initial overview is it looks like it's going ahead smoothly," Eick said.
     
    According to Hazim Balusha, head of the Central Elections Committee's public relations department, the voting will continue for the duration of the three-day period allotted exclusively for the security forces, ending on Monday evening, 23 January, at 7pm (1700 GMT).

    Successful day
     
    Balusha told Aljazeera.net voting was proceeding well, with 14% of the security forces having voted by 10am.  
     
    "We hope the voting will continue tomorrow and the day after," he said. 

    "So far, the voting has occurred in a very secure and smooth manner.  

    "There were only a few minor incidents, mainly technical difficulties having to do with unregistered voters, who are not allowed to cast ballots," said Balusha, adding that the ballots are being kept in safe rooms under heavy security and will be released only after the voting period has ended on 25 January.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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