Gaza voters go to polls for first ever local elections (AFP-FRANCE PRESSE) BEIT HANUN, Gaza Strip 01/27/05 12:47 PM ET)
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BEIT HANUN, Gaza Strip (AFP) - Voters flocked to the polls in 10
municipalities for the Gaza Strip´s first local elections, with the
Islamist group Hamas confident of a strong showing in its
Polls closed at 7:00 pm (1700 GMT), an official from the central
elections committee told AFP, with turnout averaging between 82 and
"The elections passed quietly with no violations," Firas Yahi said,
adding the final result would be published at 2:00 pm (1200 GMT) on
Queues of people lined up outside polling booths in towns such as
Beit Hanun and Deir el Balah with more than 90,000 voters entitled
to cast their ballots in 167 polling stations. A total of 414
candidates, many of them independents, are contesting 118 council
Osama Abu Sofiya, director of local elections in Gaza, said that
only minor breaches of the electoral law had been reported.
"We have not seen any major violations except for a few candidates
who have continued campaigning outside the polling booths," he told
The size of the turnout reflected the enthusiasm of voters who have
been given a first opportunity to choose the line-up of their
councils which have gained a reputation for corruption and
Hamas has in the past boycotted presidential and legislative
elections but it has decided to test its electoral strength this
time round, running on an anti-corruption ticket.
It did field some candidates in a round of municipal elections in
the West Bank last month but this is seen as the first real test of
Mohammed al-Masri, a Hamas candidate in Beit Hanun, said that the
organisation´s track record for providing welfare support to the
most impoverished Palestinians should stand it in good stead.
"Everybody knows Hamas as a resistance group but Hamas is much more
than just that," he told AFP. "We have a reputation as professionals
in the social field, providing health and education services as well
as welfare support."
Beit Hanun has gained a reputation as a particular Hamas stronghold,
serving as the launchpad for rocket attacks by militants on nearby
Jewish settlements and over the border into southern Israel.
However residents have also paid a heavy price, with Israel usually
responding with raids into the town, destroying buildings and
"We have a very important mission in front of us to rebuild the
streets and houses, to solve the problem of essential services,
provide electricity in the streets," said Masri.
Ashraf Naim said he would be voting for Hamas as he trusted it much
more than the dominant Fatah faction of Palestinian leader Mahmud
Abbas to follow through on reform promises.
"Everybody knows about the problems in the municipalities," he
said. "I am voting for Hamas as it wants to reform the institutions
and fight corruption."
Regardless of who they intended to vote for, most residents were
just delighted to have an opportunity to choose their local leaders.
Sixty-eight-year-old Mohmmed Abu Harbed said it was something he had
long waited to see.
"This is the first time I have been able to vote in local
elections," he said.
"Elections and democracy is the right way to proceed. This
demonstrates the development of the Palestinian people and nation.
"Our people have suffered for the last 50 years and we are all tired
of this. Being able to choose our own candidates is the best way to
Municipal elections in major Gaza Strip population centres such as
Gaza City, Rafah and Khan Yunis are expected to take place in March
or April. (Copyright © 2005 Agence France Presse. 01/27/05)
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