The favourite to win the Palestinian presidential elections was among the first to cast his ballot today, many hope Mahmoud Abbas will help bring peace to the region.
Polls show that his only real challenger is another moderate politician Mustafa Barghouti who is trailing in second place. Five other candidates are also standing. No big rush to the ballot boxes has been reported, but a steady stream of Palestinians have been casting their votes. Several militant groups have boycotted the election, and it is not clear yet how that will effect turnout. Analysts have pointed out that if Abbas is to rein in militant violence as he has pledged, the task will be eased if he wins a strong majority and if a high proportion of Palestinians vote. Israel had promised to ease restrictions at checkpoints to enable the poll to go ahead unhindered, but a few bottlenecks have been reported. The Palestinian electoral committee is keeping voting booths open a couple of hours longer to make sure everyone gets a chance to cast their ballot. Hundreds of international observers have been deployed across Gaza and the West Bank, and with a few claims of voting irregularities one of their main tasks will be to check that voting is free and fair. High profile monitors such as former French Prime Minister Michel Rocard and former US President Jimmy Carter are helping observe the poll. If all goes to plan final results are expected tomorrow morning.