Abbas’ Fatah party wins 54% of votes in West Bank elections

By Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondent, Haaretz Service and Agencies Final results of municipal elections held Thursday in Palestinian towns and villages in the West Bank on Friday showed the ruling Fatah party winning 54 percent of the vote, compared to 26 percent for the rival Hamas group. Fatah won control of 65 of the 104 municipal councils up for grabs compared with 22 for Hamas and 17 for other factions, said Firas Yaghi, executive director of the Higher Commission for Local Elections. Turnout was 85 percent. Official figures are due on Saturday. Fatah’s showing was better than expected, as the party had been losing ground to Hamas in other recent votes. Analysts said many Palestinian voters are returning to Fatah following Israel’s recent pullout from the Gaza Strip. Hamas said the preliminary figures did not reflect its grassroots popularity, noting that its candidates did not run in some districts for fear of arrest by Israel. The Fatah party of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas will now be in control of 61 councils out of 104, with Hamas running 28. Other parties and independents won in 15 councils, Jamal Shubeikeh, head of the PA local elections commission said. Shubeikeh put the voter turnout at 81 percent. Other candidates included the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Islamic Jihad, and independent lists. The local polls have been seen as a test of the strength for the radical Hamas in advance of the Janurary 25 elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council. „Particularly after Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza and the run-up to legislative elections, the municipal results will have important political implications as they will form the basis of how the factions will perform,” said Shubeikeh. According to figures obtained by Haaretz, races in larger municipalities such as Bituniya, near Ramallah, and Al-Hadr, near Bethlehem, were tight, with a slight advantage for Fatah. Hamas edged out its competitors in more rural areas. This advantage was obvious in the village of Tzurif, near Hebron, Shukba, near Ramallah, and Issira Shamaliya, near Nablus. Fatah won the elections by default in 22 municipalities in which no other parties ran. Hamas decided to run in only 56 relatively large municipalities. Voter turnout reached 81 percent, according to Israel Radio. The voting has been deferred indefinitely in the Gaza Strip, where Palestinians also seek statehood, despite Israel’s removal of soldiers and settlers from the coastal territory this month. Elections officials blamed a lack of time to prepare. Unlike in the first phase of the municipal election in May, when candidates ran individually, this time more than 144,000 voters in the West Bank will choose among flists. Before the vote, senior military intelligence sources told Haaretz that Hamas may be weakened in the vote by its strategy of repeated attacks on Israel. BPI-info