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West Bank elections open for first time in six years

Ballot booths have opened across the West Bank as Palestinians vote for the first time since 2006. The Gaza-based Islamist movement, Hamas, has boycotted the communal election.

A Palestinian man goes behind a voting booth to pick his candidates for the municipal elections at a polling station in the West Bank city of Ramallah on October 20, 2012. Ballot booths opened across the West Bank as Palestinians began voting in local elections, in what is the first time they have gone to the polls since 2006. AFP PHOTO/MARCO LONGARI (Photo credit should read MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images)

Westjordanland Wahlen

Palestinian voters began voting in local council elections across the West Bank on Saturday. It is the first election to be held in the Palestinian territory in six years.

Over half a million eligible voters are expected to cast their ballots at 900 polling stations which will stay open for 12 hours, the Central Elections Commission (CEC) said.

Close to 4,700 candidates are vying for the 1,000 local council seats. Twenty-five percent of the nominees are women.

Delayed a number of times, the vote will take place in just over 91 of the West Bank's 353 municipalities.

Candidates were appointed unopposed in the other 181 electorates.

Rival's boycott election

The Islamist Hamas movement, which is the main rival to current Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his party Fatah, has boycotted the West Bank election. Hamas has also banned simultaneous voting in Gaza, the territory it seized from Abbas in 2007.

"Political camps must reconcile ahead of any elections," a Hamas spokesperson told the Associated Press news agency and gave this as the reason behind the group shunning the West Bank poll.

'Civic duty'

Ahead of the vote, the CEC called on registered voters "to do their civic duty" and register their ballot.

"With the local election postponed several times, this is the perfect opportunity to choose your representative in local councils," the CEC had said on Wednesday.

"The Commission invites you not to waste this chance, but to take full advantage and restart the democratic process in Palestine which has been absent for many years."

For the first time, voters will not be allowed to take mobile phones and cameras into the polling stations, the CEC said.

Palestinians last went to the polls for general elections in January 2006 which were decisively won by Hamas which rules the Gaza strip.

Results of the West Bank election are due on Sunday.

jlw/ipj (AFP, AP, dapd)

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