Exit polls show Mahmoud Abbas the clear winner in the race for Palestinian president. The polls were kept open an additional two hours in order to give some voters a chance to cast their ballots.
Exit polls show Fatah candidate Mahmoud Abbas winning between 66 and 70 percent of the vote. His nearest rival Mustafa Barghouti managed to garner some 20 percent.
Opinion surveys had consistently shown Mr. Abbas with a commanding lead. If these initial results are confirmed in the official tally expected Monday, they would give the former prime minister a solid mandate to move ahead with political reforms and diplomatic efforts to renew peace talks with Israel.
However, Palestinian Cabinet Minister Nabil Shaath cautioned not to expect too much too soon. "I don't want people to feel too optimistic. I don't think tomorrow we are going to have an independent state. It's going to take time and effort, both on our side and certainly on the international community side to get Israel to commit itself to the road map and to withdraw its forces from our country," he said.
Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said Israel expects the new Palestinian president to accept full responsibility for ensuring that Palestinians live up to their commitments for returning to the peace process. "And from tomorrow, we would like to see them implementing their commitments in the road map, in phase one. There are not going to be any shortcuts in the road map, no compromises or discounts," he said.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, who is expected to keep his post in the new administration, said the election demonstrated the Palestinian commitment to democracy. "Our people want to show the world- want to show all the world - who are saying that there is in the region one democracy, which is Israel," he said. "Our message: NO! We are also democratic people and we want democracy! "
Polls had been scheduled to close at 7 p.m. local time but were kept open longer to allow more people to cast their ballot.
Overall, Sunday's election went smoothly and voter turnout is estimated at around 65 percent. Some problems were reported in East Jerusalem, with confusion and delays at polling sites.