Palestinians are voting in the West Bank in long-delayed elections highlighting deep divisions in the Israeli-occupied territory. The powerful Islamist group Hamas is boycotting the poll and preventing voting in the Gaza Strip. This means only the mainstream Fatah party candidates are in the race in 94 West Bank towns and villages.
Financial crises and stone-walled peacemaking efforts with Israel add to the difficult context, but the essentials of daily living are the voters’ immediate concern. The Palestinian Authority is hard-pressed to pay the salaries of more than 150,000 public sector employees. Some 10,000 members of the security forces cast their ballots on Thursday.
With Hamas not standing, analysts said the best way to measure support for the party will be to look at voter turnout.
Chief electoral officer Hisham Kuhail said: “In the West Bank the percentage of those who are registered to vote is 77%. That’s high compared to elsewhere in the world. Gaza has a smaller percentage since we haven’t been able to update our registry since 2007.”
Last time around, phased through 2005, turnout was estimated at around 80 percent. A sharp fall-off this time would show Hamas voters had stayed at home. Hamas won strongly enough in 2005 to lead the government then, not only in Gaza, but also in the West Bank.
In the Palestinian parliamentary elections in January 2006, Hamas won and assumed power, though the Israeli government, the United States and the European Union refused to recognize its right to govern the Palestinian Authority.
Both the Fatah party of President Mahmoud Abbas and the Islamist Hamas ruling Gaza see themselves as the true representatives of the Palestinian people.