Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement has announced victory of most council seats in local elections in the West Bank boycotted by rival party Hamas.
“We consider the victory as a major popular referendum on the movement’s political programme and its national performance,” a statement from Fatah spokesman Ahmad Assaf said on Sunday.
Fatah supporters in the West Bank celebrated the victory after publication of initial results, although preliminary results were only due to be released at 1600 GM.
The vote was held in 93 towns and villages.
Central Elections Commission (CEC) President Hanna Nasser said that 54.8 per cent of eligible West Bank voters, whose number reached more than 500,000, had turned out to vote.
Fatah’s victory was expected as it ran almost uncontested after the Hamas movement, which controls the Gaza Strip, boycotted the vote.
Hamas banned voting in the Gaza Strip and said it would not recognise the results in the West Bank.
It refused to take part following the collapse of unity talks with Fatah.
That left Fatah pitted against independents and leftist groups such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP).
Saturday’s vote was only held in 93 of the West Bank’s 354 municipalities, as candidates in another 179 localities were appointed unopposed. Elections in the remaining 82 areas will be held on November 24, the CEC said.
While some Palestinians welcomed the opportunity to vote, others were sceptical about the prospect of change.
“I don’t expect much from these elections despite what I hoped for because there aren’t any qualified candidates,” said 60-year-old Mohammed Zahdeh from Hebron.
“This is a farce, not an election,” said Abu Abdullah, a 56-year-old trader from Nablus.
“We want real elections that represent us, where people are capable of serving their country, and don’t just bandy around political slogans.”
Abbas, after voting at a school in El-Bireh near Ramallah, expressed disappointment that the election was not taking place in the Gaza Strip.
“We hope our brothers in Hamas will let the democratic process take place in Gaza, not only for local elections but also for presidential and parliamentary elections,” he said.
For its part, Hamas said holding the vote solely in the West Bank served only to cement the divide between the two main political movements in the Palestinian territories.
“These elections reinforce the division and have nothing to do with the national consensus,” Fawzi Barhum, Hamas spokesman, told the AFP news agency.
Holding elections without Gaza meant the results would have “no significance or legitimacy,” he added.
“These are not elections for the Palestinian people but for Fatah.”
Robert Serry, UN peace envoy, said it was “important” that Palestinians had the opportunity to vote in long-overdue local elections “and to participate in decisions that directly affect their daily lives”.
He expressed hope the poll would “serve as a prelude to general elections being organised next year in all of the occupied Palestinian territory in the context of reconciliation” between Hamas and Fatah.
Around 2,000 members of the security forces were deployed for the vote and a similar number of observers monitored the process, 130 from overseas, officials said.