Palestinian vote-counting starts

Published January 25th, 2006 - 09:02 GMT

Voter turnout has been extremely high as more than one million eligible Palestinian voters cast their ballots on Wednesday to decide who will lead their government and sit in the 132-seat Palestinian parliament, marking the first Palestinian parliamentary election in a decade.  

 

According to Maan, Palestinians arrived in large numbers at polling stations throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Voter turnout had reached over 55% in West Bank, over 60% in Gaza Strip and over 30% in Jerusalem.

 

Despite the large numbers in the decisive election, the voting process has proceded as planned at all polling stations throughout the Palestinian territories.

 

The relatively calm atmosphere followed weeks of sporadic violence surrounding the election, with one party member killed on Tuesday and numerous attempts to overtake election offices in weeks preceding the vote. 

 

Voters were able to choose from one of the 2,721 voting stations in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Palestinian residents of occupied East Jerusalem, numbering some 50,000, had the additional option to vote at Jerusalem post offices.

 

Polling stations were open until 7pm local time Wednesday.

 

Preliminary results of the vote are expected to be released on Thursday morning, while the final outcome of the election will likely be announced sometime late Friday. However, a senior source with one of the groups conducting exit polls outside Palestinian polling stations Wednesday said that the ruling Fatah looked set to win 40 percent of the vote, and Hamas about 30 percent.

 

The poll was roughly in line with surveys ahead of the first parliamentary election in a decade.

Two ballots were cast by each voter, one for a national list, and a second for a local contestant.

 

Thus voters were able to choose from 11 party lists competing for 66 seats in parliament, while another 66 seats were contended by 414 candidates, a number of which were running independently, and others as part of party lists.

 

Amongst the independent parties running was the leftist "Third Way" party, headed by Palestinian parliament member Hanan Ashrawi and PA Finance Minister Salam Fayad.

 

Every district in the West Bank and Gaza Strip was assigned a number of representatives based on its size.

 

Thousands of local and international monitors were overseeing the election process, including former US president Jimmy Carter, who is leading the international observers.

 

The election was expected to be a close one between the ruling Fatah party led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and rival Hamas, which both Israel and the United States consider a "terrorist" group as it calls for the destruction of Israel.

 

After casting his vote, President Abbas told reporters that "we are so happy with this national festival. It's going very well and we hope it will keep going well until the end without any troubles."

 

"We should respect the outcome of the elections," the President said describing the decision of conducting the elections as "difficult," because of arranging electoral process in East Jerusalem and the Israeli travel restrictions on West Bank roads, but he stressed that the Palestinian people will surpass these obstacles through practicing "their sacred right today."

 

On his part, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei announced publicly that his ruling Fatah party would stand behind Hamas were it to win the election.

 

"If Hamas wins, they will win and we will stand behind them. This is democracy and we accept the results of the elections," he said, according to the AP. "I hope that the minority will accept the decisions of the majority," he added.

 

Meanwhile, head of the Hamas list, Ismail Haniyeh, announced as he cast his vote in Gaza that Hamas would not disarm were it to enter the Palestinian Legislative Council, according to AFP.

 

Seven armed Palestinian factions have agreed to avoid violence throughout the voting process.

 

The Islamic Jihad faction, however, is boycotting the elections. Israel, which fears terrorist attacks from such opposition groups, is reportedly on a heightened state of alert.

 

PA security forces were also reportedly on a state of alert, with some 13,000 police being dispatched throughout Palestinian territories. 

 

Such forces have already cast their vote during a three-day early voting period for all PA security officers. Turnout for the vote was exceedingly high, with some 92.1% of officers casting their ballots, according to WAFA
  
The Palestinian Central Elections Commission (CEC) reported that some 54,082 votes were cast, including 20,640 in the West Bank and 33,442 in the Gaza strip.

 

In the Gaza Strip city of Rafah, a reported 95.1% of security officers voted.

 

Meanwhile in Israel, acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stated on Tuesday night in a widely televised conference that the Palestinian elections were "a historic chance to establish a Palestinian state," adding, "We cannot continue to control parts of the territories where most of the Palestinians live," according to Haaretz.
 

© 2006 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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