Ramallah, West Bank — Palestinians voted in local elections in the Israel-occupied West Bank on Saturday, their first vote for six years and one with little choice, out of step with democratic revolutions elsewhere in the Arab world.
The results were expected to largely reaffirm the Western-backed, mainly secular Fatah party, which runs a de facto government in the slivers of land not policed by Israel, in the face of a boycott by its Islamist arch-rival, Hamas.
While uprisings brought Arab governments from Morocco to Egypt to accommodate long suppressed Islamist parties, single party rule in the West Bank persists along with Fatah’s feud with the more militant and anti-Israel Hamas, which has ruled the coastal Gaza Strip since the two groups clashed in 2007.
“We do not recognize the legitimacy of these elections and we call for them to be stopped in order to protect the Palestinian people and protect their unity,” Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said.
Haniyeh, who took office when Hamas won a surprise majority in a parliamentary vote in 2006 - an outcome nullified by the civil war that followed a year later, decried the latest poll as “unilateral elections removed from a national consensus.”
Fatah finally found time ripe for the repeatedly-delayed local elections. The party edged out Hamas in university ballots throughout the West Bank earlier this year and opinion polls show flagging support for the Islamist group since it began the uphill task of governing impoverished and crowded Gaza.
With Gaza not participating in Saturday’s vote and a majority of West Bank residents living in areas where local councils are running uncontested, the election was less meaningful than in previous years.
Less than half of citizens surveyed by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research said they would vote, and an even smaller number thought the ballot would be fair.
But fissures within Fatah lent some suspense to the polls. Some local leaders struck out on their own after being spurned from official lists in a sign of personal disputes. They may garner a showing giving them an influential say in local councils.