Hamas wins clear parliamentary majority in Palestinian elections

Unofficial results in the elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council indicate a crushing victory for Hamas, which seems to have garnered an absolute parliamentary majority after cleaning up in almost every constituency. The unconfirmed results show that Hamas has captured almost all of the 16 constituencies in the West Bank and Gaza, in particular the Jerusalem district, where Hamas won all four seats allocated for Muslim candidates. Two seats are also reserved for Christian delegates in Jerusalem. At this stage there is no data on the national results. The Palestinian parliament has 132 seats. Wednesday’s election was split into a vote for 66 seats for local districts and 66 for a national ballot. Hamas won all nine seats in the Hebron district, four of the five Ramallah seats (the fifth seat is reserved for a Christian delegate), and captured the majority of seats in Nablus, Jenin, Qalqilyah, Tul Karm and Salfit. In the Gaza Strip Hamas won all seats in the northern, Gaza City and Dir al Balah districts. Hamas won four of the five seats in Khan Yunis, and Fatah candidate Mohammed Dahlan apparently won the fifth seat. Fatah won the majority of seats in Rafah. „Hamas has won more than 70 seats in Gaza and the West Bank, which gives it more than 50 percent of the vote,” said senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyah early Thursday. Haniyah told Reuters he based the numbers on initial ballot counts from Hamas representatives at polling stations. The Palestinian Central Election Commission said that the election results, initially scheduled to be announced at 9 A.M., will now be released at 7 P.M. It gave no reason for the delay. A senior Fatah official said it appeared Hamas was on course to form the next government, while a top Hamas official held out the possibility of a power-sharing coalition with Fatah and other parties. „We are convinced we will be partners with the other factions,” the Hamas official said. „We will study the issue of forming a government after consultations with the Palestinian leadership.” An exit poll released Wednesday night had indicated that Fatah won 58 seats in the elections, followed closely by Hamas with 53 seats. The polls had indicated that neither party was likely to win a majority in the 132-member parliament. However, senior pollster Khalil Shikaki of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research had expressed doubt as to the likelihood of the party winning enough support from smaller parties and independent lists to forge a majority. Israel Radio on Thursday quoted Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri as saying that according to information he had obtained, Hamas won the elections by a large margin. Senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniya told Reuters on Thursday that an initial count of votes showed Hamas had won a majority of seats in the Palestinian parliament. „Hamas has won more than 70 seats in Gaza and the West Bank, which gives it more than 50 percent of the vote,” Haniyah said. Both Fatah and Hamas claimed victory Wednesday night and celebrated noisily. Gaza Strip and West Bank towns filled with the sound of car horns and bursts of gunfire poured into the night sky. „Our choice is Islam and we want change as soon as possible,” Hamas supporter Nidal al-Jaberi said in Hebron. A few streets away, a gunman, Mohammed Amr, said: „This result shows that Fatah will always be on top.” Hamas capitalised on internal Fatah divisions and the ruling party’s reputation for corruption and mismanagement. „This will give the small groups and the independents a big chance to decide (who forms a government),” Shikaki said. „It’s possible that Hamas has a chance to form the next government.” A Bir Zeit University exit poll released earlier in the evening showed Fatah holding a slim lead over Hamas, with Fatah projected to win 63 seats and Hamas taking 58. The day passed without any violent incidents after the Palestinian police deployed 13,000 policemen to safeguard ballot boxes. A few squabbles transpired between Fatah and Hamas activists in Hebron, and a mass skirmish took place between the two camps near Hebron. Other incidents occurred in Gaza City and Khan Yunis. On the other hand, at voting stations in Jenin and its surrounding villages, no armed men from any organization were seen and no incidents were registered. Due to the long lines outside polling stations in East Jerusalem, the Palestinian Central Elections Committee extended the voting hours at the city’s six post office branches. Unofficial reports said the voting rate in East Jerusalem stood at about 50 percent, a much higher turnout than in the previous elections 10 years ago. Polling stations throughout Palestinian Authority territories were closed at 7 P.M., and voter turnout reached 77.7 percent, according to the Elections Committee. Turnout in Gaza was 82 percent compared to 74 percent in the West Bank. Hundreds of Fatah supporters celebrated in the streets Wednesday night after one exit poll showed their party ahead in the first Palestinian elections in a decade. „Even though this is not the official result, we have to celebrate,” said 22-year-old Omar Abdel Al Raouf, waving an assault rifle from his car window. „The winner is the Palestinian people.”