Campaigning for the first Palestinian elections since 2006 began on Saturday, the Central Electoral Commission said. Municipal elections in the Palestinian Authority-controlled West Bank will take place on October 20, with campaigning lasting 13 days, the CEC added.
Polling was called by the West Bank government despite opposition from the Islamist group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. The cost of the election is an estimated $6 million (4.6 million euros). It takes place amid acute social unrest, as demonstrators have brought West Bank cities to a standstill in recent weeks protesting against prime minister Salam Fayyad’s fiscally crisis-hit government over the spiraling cost of living. The last elections were won by the Islamist group Hamas, which controls the Palestinian territory of Gaza.
The majority of candidates belong to the nationalist Fatah party of president Mahmoud Abbas and to the leftwing groups the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). Fatah has threatened to exclude some of its members who are appearing on rival groups' tickets. Among the 4,969 candidates in the running, who will be elected by half a million voters, will be around 1,000 women, many campaigning independently. One list in Hebron in the south contains only women.
The vote comes against the backdrop of a stalled bid to implement a reconciliation deal between the Fatah party, which dominates the West Bank government, and the Hamas movement in Gaza. After the bid stalled, Hamas announced it was suspending the work of the CEC in Gaza, where new voters were due to register.