RAMALLAH, West Bank,(Reuters) – President Mahmoud Abbas”s Fatah party won 51 councils in Palestinian local elections with militant group Hamas gaining control of 13, an official said when announcing the final results on Saturday.
Of the 104 municipalities up for grabs in the occupied West Bank in the third phase of Palestinian local elections, 40 went to other factions, said Jamal al-Shobaki, head of the Higher Commission for Local Elections.
The result is seen as a first indicator of voter sympathies for the main Palestinian factions ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for January 2006.
"The electoral process was very successful and it was praised by local and international observers … it is a success for the entire Palestinian people," Shobaki said.
He said the result was disappointing for Hamas, a group bent on the destruction of Israel, while Fatah would probably be able to take control in many of the councils where it did not gain an overall majority.
"We expect Hamas to gain no more than one more municipality while Fatah would probably form alliances with other factions in municipalities won by others to increase their foothold," he said.
Shobaki said the voter turnout was 84 percent. A fourth stage of municipal elections for the councils of major Palestinian towns across Gaza and the West Bank is due to be held later this year.
The performance of Fatah, which has been struggling to overcome public dissatisfaction with corruption and mismanagement in the Palestinian Authority, was better relative to Hamas than in two previous rounds.
Hamas said the preliminary figures did not reflect its grassroots popularity, noting that its candidates did not run in some districts for fear of arrest by Israel.
Thursday”s ballot was the first Palestinian vote since Israel completed its Gaza pullout on Sept. 12. Hamas, which is sworn to Israel”s destruction, boycotted the only previous parliamentary ballot in 1996.
Hamas was the driving force behind suicide bombings against Israelis during five years of a Palestinian uprising but agreed to a truce in February at Abbas”s behest. It did well in the two earlier phases of municipal voting.
Its popularity is underpinned not only by its fight against Israel but its charity network and corruption-free image.