RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Amid a lackluster voter turnout, Palestinians largely elected the dominant Fatah Party to represent them in local councils throughout the West Bank, election officials said Sunday.
But rather than strengthening Fatah’s credibility as its leaders had hoped, the election -- the first municipal poll held since 2005 -- exposed internal party divisions and a deep public apathy.
Only about 55% of eligible voters went to the polls Saturday, down from 70% when municipal elections were last held seven years ago.
Analysts said the low turnout reflected a public frustration over the lack of new leaders and choices.
Fatah’s main rival -- the Islamist party Hamas, which controls Gaza Strip -- boycotted the West Bank election, saying its members were being harassed. No voting occurred in Gaza.
"There was an absence of true competition," said Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian Authority government spokesman who now works as a political analyst. "Without that, voters stayed away."
Official Fatah Party slates won the majority of seats in Hebron, Bethlehem, Kalkilya, Jericho and Tulkarm.
A rival group of Fatah members who broke from the party and submitted their own candidate lists won majorities in Jenin and Nablus, a sign of dissatisfaction with Fatah official leadership. The breakaway Fatah group also won in Ramallah.
"Fatah was actually competing against itself," said Nashat Aqtash, a political science professor at Birzeit University.
Aqtash, who previously worked as a consultant for Hamas, said the results reveal dissatisfaction with the current Fatah leadership. "Fatah failed to score in big cities such as Nablus and Jenin, and when looking at the villages, Fatah got less than half of the seats in many places," he said.
At the same time, smaller parties and new aspirants failed to draw much support. In Hebron, an all-female slate of candidates failed to win enough votes to secure any seats on the council.
ALSO:26 high school students, all girls, die in Iran field trip crash
--Maher Abukhater in Ramallah and Edmund Sanders in Jerusalem.
Photo: Palestinians search for their names on the voter lists before
casting their ballots Saturday during the local municipal elections at a polling
station near Ramallah. Credit: Atef Safadi / EPA