RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Palestinians headed to the polls Saturday in the West Bank’s first local elections in seven years, selecting new leaders for 93 cities and villages.
Turnout was light in the morning but picked up as the day progressed, according to officials from the central elections commission.
As they cast their votes, many Palestinians expressed pride and happiness that the long-delayed local elections were finally being held.
“It makes me feel that democracy is well here,” said Tareq Makhlouf, 26, a U.S.-born Palestinian who moved to Ramallah last year.
Others said they hoped the new slate of local leaders would bring change.
“It is time to see new faces in the municipalities,” said Faisal Darras after casting a vote at a Ramallah polling station. “Seven years of the same faces is enough .... Elections should be held every four years, not every seven.”
The Palestinian Authority had attempted to conduct local elections several times since 2010, but votes were canceled due to political instability and the fracture between the two main Palestinian parties, Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas, which controls Gaza, did not allow voting to take place in the seaside territory and urged its supporters in the West Bank to boycott Saturday’s poll.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas cast his vote in al-Bireh, Ramallah’s sister city. It is believed he voted for his party’s list, the Fatah-led Independence and Development bloc, one of only two lists running in the city.
“This is a day of democracy for the Palestinian people,” Abbas said.
He expressed hope that the Palestinian people would soon be able to vote in presidential and legislative elections as well. The last national election was held in 2006.
Counting the votes will start soon after the polls close Saturday evening, but preliminary results will not be announced before Sunday afternoon, election officials said.
Because of the Hamas boycott, most analysts predict Fatah lists will dominate the new local councils.
-- Maher Abukhater
Photo: A Palestinian woman looks at a voter registration list outside a polling station in the West Bank city of Hebron. Credit: Abed Hashlamoun / EPA