Palestinians in the West Bank voted Saturday in the first local election since 2005. PA leaders described the event as a “true celebration of democracy.”

Chairman of the Central Election Commission Hanna Nasser said on Saturday evening that the rate of participation for Palestinians in the West Bank elections stood at 54.8 percent, Palestinian news agency WAFA reported.

Nasser said 277,000 out of the 505,600 eligible voters had cast ballots.

"The elections went very smoothly," WAFA quoted Nasser as saying.

Voting stations closed at 7 p.m.

Initial results are expected late on Saturday.

Farid Toamallah, a spokesman for the elections commission, said that the voting process was smooth and no serious incidents were reported.

More than 500,000 Palestinians were eligible to vote in the local elections. About 4,700 candidates – 25% of them women – ran in the elections.

These were boycotted by Hamas and only held in 92 out of 353 municipalities and local councils in the West Bank. In the remaining municipal and village councils, candidates were chosen by acclamation.

Hamas’s decision to boycott the elections left Fatah running against independent figures and lists and representatives of three Palestinian organizations: Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Palestinian Democratic Union. Some of the independent candidates are dissident Fatah officials who have been dismissed from the faction.

The most prominent figure is Ghassan Shaka’a, a former mayor of Nablus who enraged Fatah by running at the head of an independent list. He belongs to a large clan in Nablus and ran against Fatah’s Amin Makboul, despite attempts by the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah to dissuade him from the move.

Earlier this month, Fatah leaders expelled Shaka’a for running outside the faction’s framework. But he insists that he had resigned from Fatah several years ago and was therefore entitled to run on an independent ticket.

One of the reasons why Fatah lost the 2006 parliamentary election to Hamas was the fact that many of its members had run as independents.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who voted in Al-Bireh, expressed hope that the local elections would pave the way for parliamentary and presidential elections in the Palestinian territories.

He also voiced hope that local elections would be held in the Gaza Strip in the near future.

Describing Saturday’s vote as a “democratic process,” Abbas said he also hopes that elections would one day be held in Jerusalem.

PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who voted in his hometown of Deir al-Ghusun, near Tulkarem, criticized Hamas for boycotting the elections and preventing them in the Gaza Strip.

He said that despite the boycott, some Hamas supporters had participated in Saturday’s elections.

Jpost.com Staff contributed to this report.

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