West Bank Palestinians take to the polls for local elections

West Bank Palestinians take to the polls for local elections

West Bank Palestinians take to the polls for local elections

Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine are boycotting the vote.

Tribal loyalties often trump party affiliation at the local level, but the vote is also seen as a test for the embattled, nepotism-tainted Fatah party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah cast his vote at a polling station in his hometown of Anabta in the northern West Bank.

Official results are expected to be announced on Sunday.

Voter turnout, particularly in major cities, was dismally low, with Nablus barely over 20% turnout, and others all well under 50%, though Fatah insisted it was no worse than 2012.

The elections were only held in the West Bank because Hamas, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007, chose to boycott the vote, along with other smaller political factions.

Hamas said The Palestinian Authority had made a unilateral decision to go ahead with the vote before an agreement on a legal framework had been reached, following an October ruling from the Palestinian High Court that found the judiciary in Gaza did not have the necessary "guarantees" in place for an election - a decision denounced by Hamas as "political". Fatah has been caught in an intractable rift with Islamist Hamas.

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In Hebron, the West Bank's largest city, Fatah won just seven of 15 seats. The 300,000 residents of east Jerusalem were not voting Saturday.

Last year, the two parties were poised to compete in elections in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip, before each side disqualified the other's candidate. "Holding them in the West Bank alone, without Gaza, will cement division", said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum.

There are about 5 million Palestinians listed as refugees by the United Nations (UNRWA) who are not permitted to vote in local elections but will be allowed to vote in national elections when they are held.

Abbas' presidential term officially ended in 2009, but elections have not been held in Palestine since 2006, when Hamas stood for parliamentary elections and won.

"I came to exercise my democratic rights", said Bishara Dabbah, a 55-year-old Ramallah resident.

Palestinians living in Israel-occupied West Bank voted Saturday in the local election, which is boycotted by several Palestinian groups.

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