“The Palestinian people are moving towards democracy,” the words of the front-runner in the presidential election as he cast his ballot.
Polls show that Mahmoud Abbas can expect to win by a large majority after a successful campaign where he promised to uphold former President Yasser Arafat’s struggle for statehood but by non violent means.
The moderate poltician has also revived peace hopes promising negotiations with Israel. Trailng in second place is Mustafa Barghouti, an independent who also advocates peaceful means to reach a settlement. Five other candidates are running.
Militant groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad have called for a boycott of the election.
Some analysts say the winner will need a wide majority and high voter turnout if peace talks can be effectively pursued. A pre-election poll showed Palestinians evenly split over whether to call off or press on with the armed uprising against Israel.
But many voiced hope that if Abbas is elected he could deliver them from a conflict that has isolated and impoverished the Palestinian territories.