- Title: VARIOUS: Palestinians vote in the first parliamentary elections held in a decade
- Date: 25th January 2006
- Summary: (W2)GAZA CITY, GAZA (JANUARY 25, 2006) (REUTERS) HAMAS LEADER MAHMOUD A-ZAHAR ARRIVING AT POLLING STATION A-ZAHAR CASTING BALLOT (2 SHOTS)
- Embargoed: 9th February 2006 12:00
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA33V6NSAJEA3DMNPBRE7UTIHQ7
- Story Text: Rival party leaders, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and Mahmoud al-Zahar of Hamas cast their ballots on Wednesday (January 25, 2006) in the first parliamentary elections in a decade.
Palestinians lined up to cast their votes across the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Arab East Jerusalem in a ballot that could bring the militant Islamic movement Hamas into the government for the first time.
Simultaneously, Abbas cast a ballot at his headquarters in the West Bank political centre of Ramallah while in the Gaza Strip, leader of the Hamas Mahmoud a-Zahar cast his ballot hoping to bring his movement into the government for the first time.
"Until now, things are running smoothly and calmly. We hope that the voting will be completed at seven o'clock smoothly and without any incidents, as it has been since the morning until now. After that the ballot boxes will decide," Abbas told reporters after casting his vote.
The Palestinian Authority dominated by Fatah came to power in 1994 at a time when Palestinians hoped for peace with Israel.
But over a decade later some are questioning the wisdom of peacemaking with Israel as a second Palestinian uprising enters its sixth year and Jewish settlements dot more West Bank hills then they did in 1993 when the Oslo peace accords were signed.
Added to that are accusations of rampant corruption, infighting and mismanagement by old-guard Fatah leaders. Hamas maintained a high profile in the Gaza Strip by deploying thousands of supporters outside polling stations wearing hats in the party's trademark green, also the colour of Islam, in a last minute reminder to voters. Opinion polls show Hamas, standing on an anti-corruption platform in its first time run for parliament, just a few percentage points behind President Mahmoud Abbas's ruling Fatah.
"In order to achieve our goals, to reconstruct what is destroyed by the Israelis and what is destroyed by the corruption. For this reason, we are calling on everybody to participate in the process safely and we should prevent any interference. Secondly, after that, we are going to discuss every aspect with the people who are going to be represented," said the Hamas leader.
Abbas hopes once Hamas enters parliament it might be prepared to disarm, a process that is meant to start under a U.S.-backed peace "road map" designed top produce a Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel.
Other independent party candidates took to the polls. Veteran lawmaker Hanan Ashrawi, of 'The Third Way' party alongside former finance minister Salam Fayyad, cast her ballot on the outskirts of Ramallah. The 25-member list of The Third Way seeks to achieve Palestinian statehood through civic action.
Former presidential candidate Mustafa Barghouthi, who heads the Independent Palestine List, cast his ballot in a school in Ramallah as well. Barghouthi's party advocates social reform and non-violent resistance to Israeli occupation. Its 41-member list includes intellectuals, professionals, and former lawmakers. Thousands of police armed with automatic rifles guarded ballot boxes at polling stations across the West Bank and Gaza Strip to prevent any eruption of violence during the vote. In Jerusalem, eligible voters and candidates cast their ballots at post offices in Arab east Jerusalem. East Jerusalem residents were initially banned from taking part in the vote, but after debates and international pressure Israel's cabinet approved voting but said it would ban "terrorist groups" from listing its candidates on ballots in East Jerusalem or even campaigning. Eligible Palestinian voters in Jerusalem will be voting for six candidates to represent one of the larger Palestinian population concentrations with two seats reserved for Christian lawmakers representing East Jerusalem.
Israel captured East Jerusalem along with the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in a move not recognised internationally. Israel regards all of Jerusalem as its capital, but Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state they hope to establish in the West Bank and Gaza.
Israel allowed voting at five post offices in East Jerusalem in a Palestinian general election in 1996 as well as a presidential election in 2005 and has agreed to do so again for these elections.
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