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Palestinians head to polls in first vote since 2006 21 октября 2012, 16:12

Palestinians in the West Bank will head to the polls on Saturday for the first time in nearly seven years, casting their ballots in local elections.
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Palestinians in the West Bank will head to the polls on Saturday for the first time in nearly seven years, casting their ballots in local elections, AFP reports. But the long-delayed vote will only be held in the West Bank, with the first stage of voting to take place in 91 of the territory's 353 municipalities. In another 181 localities, candidates were appointed unopposed, with elections to be held in the remaining areas at a date which has yet to be set, the Central Elections Commission (CEC) said. The last time the Palestinians went to the polls was in January 2006 for general elections which were decisively won by the Islamist Hamas movement, which rules the Gaza Strip, and which is refusing to take part in Saturday's vote. Local elections were last held in 2005. Nearly 10,000 members of the security forces, who will be on duty on election day, cast their ballots on Thursday. Ahead of the vote, the CEC urged the half a million registered voters "to do their civic duty" and cast their ballots. "With the local elections postponed several times, this is the perfect opportunity to choose your representatives in local councils," it said on Wednesday. "The Commission invites you to not waste this chance, but to take full advantage and restart the democratic process in Palestine which has been absent for many years." Over the past two years, the Palestinian Authority of president Mahmud Abbas has repeatedly called local elections then postponed them -- once in 2010 and twice in 2011 -- as a result of problems coordinating the vote between his Fatah faction and its Hamas rivals. A reconciliation deal aimed at ending years of bitter opposition between the two factions has fizzled out over the past year and, in May, Abbas appointed a new government under prime minister Salam Fayyad, tasked with holding municipal elections in the West Bank alone. The move angered Hamas, which accused Abbas of abandoning reconciliation. -- Test of discipline for Fatah -- Saturday's vote will see nearly 4,700 candidates -- 25 percent of them women -- on 300 lists vying for 1,000 local council seats, the CEC says. In the southern city of Hebron, one of the lists is all-female. In the absence of Hamas candidates, the competition pits Fatah against independents and members of various leftist groups such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). It will be essentially be a test of discipline and the balance of forces within Fatah, which has already threatened to expel some of its members who are running on rival groups' tickets. In the northern city of Nablus, for example, a former mayor appears on the list of an independent, running against the official Fatah candidate. "We are going to these elections as part of a national coalition with independents and representatives of civil society to ensure the success of this process," Fatah spokesman Ahmad Assaf told AFP. "Some have decided to stand as individuals, outside the movement. This is why the movement has accepted their resignations or expelled them, but they do not number more than a few dozen, and that is their choice, and not that of the movement," he said. Nearly 900 polling stations will be open from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm (0500-1700 GMT). The election comes after weeks of public discontent over the rising cost of living, with much of the discontent direct at Fayyad and his government.
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