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Ruling Fatah party has weak showing in Palestinian election

Ruling Fatah party has weak showing in Palestinian election

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah party was ahead in most of the West Bank's main cities after municipal elections that highlighted persistent divisions with its rival Hamas, results showed today.

The vote provided Palestinians a rare chance to cast ballots after over a decade without presidential or legislative elections, and Saturday's election was seen as a test for Abbas' embattled and nepotism-tainted party.

Hanna Nasser, chairman of the Palestinian election commission, said numerous contenders were from Fatah, while in some villages "clans and families" had decided on the candidate lists.

More than 4,400 candidates are competing for 1,561 council seats. The first results are expected Sunday.

Speaking to reporters after the vote, Hamdallah said the elections "send a message to the world that our people deserve a state as any other nation in the world".

Hamas has rejected the calls for elections saying they will only continue to pull political sensitivities in Palestinian socio-political hemisphere if elections are held before political reconciliation between the two parties.

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"No doubt this is the democratic life we have promised our people", said Fatah Deputy Chief Mahmoud al-Aloul. Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine are boycotting the vote.

After the 2006 election, the global community refused to deal with any government in which Hamas participated until it renounced violence and recognised Israel and past peace agreements. Fatah has been caught in an intractable rift with Islamist Hamas. But it has urged its supporters to vote for representatives running in the current race.

Hamas took part in the first local elections held in 2005, which chose nearly 100 local councils, as the process was never completed, then in parliamentary elections in 2006 marking a sweeping victory by winning 74 seats out of the 132 Legislative Council elections. That laid the ground for a political rupture - Hamas and Fatah fought a short civil war in Gaza in 2007, since when Hamas has governed the small coastal enclave.

In Hebron, the West Bank's largest city and long considered more Hamas-friendly territory, Fatah won just seven of 15 council seats despite the Hamas boycott, the Associated Press reported.

This week, Hamas's bloc won the student council elections in the prominent Palestinian university Bir Zeit, an indication of the group's support in the West Bank.

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