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Hamas celebrates landslide victory in first ever local elections in Gaza (AFP-FRANCE PRESSE) GAZA CITY 01/28/05 3:52 AM ET)Source: http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=1515&ncid=1515&e=3&u=/afp/20050128/wl_mideast_afp/mideastpalestinianvote_050128085245 AFP} Agence France Presse AFP} Agence France Presse Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
GAZA CITY (AFP) - The radical Islamist movement Hamas was celebrating a landslide victory in the first ever local elections in the Gaza Strip, winning 77 out of the 118 seats up for grabs, election commission sources said.

The mainstream Fatah faction of Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas won just 26 seats while independents and minor parties won the remaining 15 slots in 10 municipalities across the territory in Thursday´s election.

The official results were not due to be announced until a 2:00 pm (1200 GMT) press conference by local government minister Jamal Shobaki but sources on the election commission confirmed the results and the massive 85 percent turnout of registered voters.

The turnout figure easily surpasses the 70 percent rate seen in the January 9 presidential election which was boycotted by Hamas and Jihad.

Hamas had campaigned on a strong anti-corruption ticket, amid widespread disillusionment among voters about the incompetence and cronyism which has characterised many councils.

Abbas has vowed a crackdown on corruption and to implement sweeping reforms of the Palestinian institutions but the results in Gaza appear to indicate that voters do not trust the establishment party to put its own house in order.

Mushir al-Masri, a spokesman for Hamas, said the results were a damning indictment of the levels of institutional corruption.

"This means that the Palestinian people reject corruption and hope for change to protect its interests," he told AFP.

"This significant result also means that democracy has won."

While voting did not take place in any of the major population centres such as Gaza City and the towns of Khan Yunis and Rafah, the election was seen as a first major test of Hamas´s electoral strength.

The movement did contest a round of local elections in the West Bank late last month but it has always regarded Gaza as its real stronghold.

Abbas has been trying to persuade Hamas to end its campaign of anti- Israeli attacks and join the political mainstream, a process which may become inevitable if the results from Thursday´s elections are repeated in other rounds of local elections and in legislative elections slated for July.

Hamas for its part has been talking of the need for a "unified national leadership", indicating its willingness to work with the Palestinian Authority even though it is an institution that it officially rejects.

Shobaki told AFP on Thursday that a new round of local elections would be held on April 28, giving around 50 percent of the whole population of the West Bank and Gaza an opportunity to exercise their democratic right. (Copyright © 2005 Agence France Presse. 01/28/05)

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