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Palestinians cast votes for local elections in West Bank amid boycott calls

May 13, 2017 11:03 A.M. (Updated: May 14, 2017 11:27 A.M.)
Votes being cast for local elections in Hebron, West Bank
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Amid calls by various political factions and Palestinian leaders to boycott local elections in the occupied West Bank, Palestinians began making their way to designated polling stations on Saturday after voting opened at 7 a.m. to last until 7 p.m. across the territory.

However, only certain political parties were represented in the election, as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) all boycotted the elections that were called for by the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA).

The Central Elections Committee (CEC) said that the election has cost some $6 million, adding that 145 local governmental bodies would be carrying out elections, which has included 536 lists representing 4,411 candidates competing for 1,561 seats.

A further 181 local bodies only had one list of candidates that would automatically be announced winners, while 65 localities had no nominated electoral lists at all, according to the CEC.

CEC chairman Hanna Nasser said elections would be held in the near future for the 65 local councils in the West Bank, where residents either did not submit a list for their councils or their lists did not meet the CEC criteria, according to official Palestinian news agency Wafa. Of the 65, nine localities submitted incomplete lists and 56 had none nominated.

If these councils fail to submit a list at the second stage, then the government will appoint their representative council members.

Nasser announced Saturday evening that 39,3572 out of 787,386 eligible voters cast their, representing a 49.98 percent voter turnout.

Voter turnout was lower in big cities compared to villages and rural areas.

By district -- including main cities as well as surrounding villages and rural areas, voter turn out was 40 percent in the Jerusalem district of the West Bank, 56 percent in Jenin, 56 percent in Tulkarem, 67 percent in Tubas, 28 percent in Nablus, 63 percent in Qalqiliya, 68 percent in Salfit, 47 percent in Ramallah, 52 percent in Bethlehem, and 49 percent in Hebron.

By comparison, voter turnout in cities alone was 38 percent in Jenin, 40 percent in Tulakrem, 65 percent in Tubas, 20 percent in Nablus, 53.5 percent in Qalqiliya, 58 percent in Salfit, 28 percent in al-Bireh, and 39 percent in Ramallah.

The preliminary election results will be announced Sunday evening during a press conference at the CEC’s media center in al-Bireh.

In the village of al-Nassariya in the northern West Bank district of Nablus, the two candidate lists competing in the elections called on their constituency not to vote, after an agreement was made three days ago regarding the structure of the local council without need for elections, according to Mahmoud al-Miseimi, head of the Nablus Committee for Elections.

Palestinian security services voted last Thursday to allow for them to provide security on voting day. CEC reported that 80.8 percent of security officials voted in the elections.
Elections in Ramallah

The electoral process was monitored by observers as well as local and international journalists, according to CEC.

The elections only took place in the West Bank, as Hamas, the de facto leaders of the besieged Gaza Strip, rejected the legitimacy of the elections. The PA called for elections in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, but Hamas promptly rejected the plan, saying that elections should only take place after the more than decade-long rivalry between Hamas and Fatah came to an end and reconciliation was achieved.

Despite their boycott, Hamas has encouraged Palestinians to cast their votes for “the most competent” candidates, acknowledging the “crucial role” local councils in the West Bank have in confronting Israeli policies and providing the basic services to the Palestinian people.

CEC chairman Hanna Nasser reportedly expressed hope on Saturday that local elections could still be held in Gaza at a future date.

The PA was meanwhile prohibited from carrying out elections in occupied East Jerusalem, annexed by Israel following the 1967 military takeover of the Palestinian territory.
Elections in Bethlehem

Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA -- the UN agency responsible for providing services to some five million Palestinian refugees -- and residing in refugee camps across the West Bank are also barred from voting in elections. According to Palestinian rights group Badil, Palestinian refugees residing outside refugee camps are permitted to vote in national legislative council and municipal elections, while those residing in the camps are only allowed to participate in national elections.

On Wednesday, the committee of Palestinian prisoners’ families in the Nablus district encouraged Palestinians to boycott municipal elections in solidarity with the some 1,300 Palestinians currently on a mass hunger strike in Israeli prisons. The calls came as the families accused the Fatah-dominated PA of failing to take a strong stance on Israel’s delegitimization campaign against Marwan Barghouthi, the primary leader in the hunger strike.

Nagham al-Khayat, the wife of hunger-striking prisoner Yasser Abu Bakr, urged Palestinian society to escalate its support of prisoners on the ground, and demanded that the PA assume its responsibilities vis-a-vis the prisoners currently forgoing food to obtain basic rights.

“We are not against elections, but we have demanded that they be postponed until after the end of the prisoners’ hunger strike, to no avail,” al-Khayat said at the time. “Today we demand that all those who still have a conscience boycott local elections on Saturday for the dignity of Palestinian prisoners.”
Local elections in Hebron

The most recent attempt to hold local elections came after elections scheduled to be held in October were postponed, following backlash over a PA Supreme Court ruling to exclude the Gaza Strip from the elections altogether.

Prior to their cancellation, the municipal elections had been set to be the first in the Gaza Strip in a decade, after Hamas’ victory in the 2006 vote erupted into a violent conflict between Hamas and Fatah, as both groups attempted to take control of the besieged coastal enclave.
Elections in Qalqiliya

Elections in Qalqiliya

Elections in Qalqiliya

Elections in Qalqiliya

Elections in Qalqiliya
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