0615 GMT July 18, 2019
The Saturday polls are regarded as a popularity test for the Fatah leader and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who remains in a deep division with rival Hamas, with no legislative or presidential elections in the offing.
Nearly 800,000 Palestinians were anticipated to take part in the polls to elect representatives in 145 local councils in the West Bank, though no elections are planned in the Hamas-administered Gaza Strip.
Months of political and legal squabbling preceded Saturday’s voting, with Fatah and Hamas trading blames for failure to hold polls in Gaza.
Hamas authorities emphasized that the Palestinian Authority had adopted a unilateral decision to hold the elections before an agreement on a legal framework were reached.
“The elections are happening without national consensus. Holding them in the West Bank alone, without Gaza, will cement division,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum stated.
While Hamas boycotted the previous municipal polls back in 2012, it has urged its supporters to take part in the current elections.
Fatah Deputy Chief Mahmoud al-Aloul, however, said, “No doubt this is the democratic life we have promised our people. Unfortunately this joy is taking place in the West Bank alone because Hamas is preventing the people from practicing this right in Gaza.”
The last Palestinian legislative election was held in 2006 in which Hamas scored a surprise victory, laying the ground for a political division and prompting a brief infighting in Gaza in 2007. Since then, Hamas has governed the small coastal strip.
Meanwhile, polls conducted in the occupied territories indicate that if parliamentary elections were held today, Hamas would emerge victorious in both Gaza and the West Bank.
82-year-old Abbas is now 12 years into what was supposed to be a four-year term and remains an unpopular leader, according to opinion polls.