RAMALLAH: Fatah supporters were claiming victory Sunday ahead of the official results in the first West Bank election since 2006, in a local poll boycotted by Hamas.
In the southern city of Hebron, supporters of the Fatah party of president Mahmud Abbas, which dominates the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, were out on the streets celebrating as early as late Saturday.
The movement claimed in a statement to have won in most of the municipalities, towns and villages on the West Bank.
"We consider the victory as a major popular referendum on the movement's political programme and its national performance," spokesman Ahmad Assaf said in the statement.
Polling stations shut Saturday after 12 hours of voting and preliminary results are not expected until 1600 GMT Sunday.
Shortly after the end of voting, Hanna Nasser, chairman of the Central Elections Commission (CEC) said 277,000 out of the 505,600 eligible voters had cast ballots, putting the turnout at 54.8 percent.
"The elections went very smoothly," he told reporters in Ramallah.
Hamas also chalked up major wins during the last local elections in 2005, the first time it had participated in the democratic process.
This time however, Hamas refused to take part following the collapse of unity talks with the rival Fatah party.
That left Fatah pitted against independents and leftist groups such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP).
Saturday's vote was only held in 93 of the West Bank's 354 municipalities, as candidates in another 179 localities were appointed unopposed. Elections in the remaining 82 areas will be held on November 24, the CEC said.
In parts of Ramallah, roadworks blocked several streets and the stench of sewage filled the air as residents went out to decide who would be on the next municipal council charged with running the city, an AFP correspondent said.
While some welcomed the opportunity to vote, others were sceptical about the prospect of change.
"I don't expect much from these elections despite what I hoped for because there aren't any qualified candidates," said 60-year-old Mohammed Zahdeh, from Hebron.
"This is a farce, not an election," said Abu Abdullah, a 56-year-old trader from Nablus.
"We want real elections that represent us, where people are capable of serving their country, and don't just bandy around political slogans."
Abbas, after voting at a school in El-Bireh near Ramallah, expressed disappointment that the election was not taking place in Gaza.
"We hope our brothers in Hamas will let the democratic process take place in Gaza, not only for local elections but also for presidential and parliamentary elections," he said.
But Hamas said holding the vote solely in the West Bank served only to cement the yawning divide between the two main political movements in the Palestinian territories.
"These elections reinforce the division and have nothing to do with the national consensus," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum told AFP.
Holding elections without Gaza would mean the results would have "no significance or legitimacy," he added.
"These are not elections for the Palestinian people but for Fatah."
UN peace envoy Robert Serry said it was "important" that Palestinians had the opportunity to vote in long-overdue local elections "and to participate in decisions that directly affect their daily lives."
He expressed hope the poll would "serve as a prelude to general elections being organised next year in all of the occupied Palestinian territory in the context of reconciliation" between Hamas and Fatah.
Around 2,000 members of the security forces were deployed for the vote and a similar number of observers monitored the process, 130 from overseas, officials said.