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Palestinian Municipal Elections Turn Out

All indications showed a good voter turnout in 26 communities throughout the West Bank, where nearly 1,000 candidates are competing for about 300 seats on various local councils. The last municipal vote was held back in 1976.

Thursdays balloting is seen as the run-up to the January 9th elections for a successor to Yasser Arafat as president of the Palestinian Authority. The municipal elections are also viewed as an important step toward the establishment of a Palestinian state. Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said as much as he cast his ballot in the West Bank town of Abu Dis which is just outside Jerusalem. “"Well it is the first step towards the establishment of the Palestinian state, I'm sure about it. This is the first municipal election since 1976. I am so much optimistic that this step will be followed by all the other steps towards the presidential election on the 9th of January and a legislative election which hope to be in the middle of the coming year or about the election with the PLO institutions or Fatah and institutions." he said.

Several problems were encountered including delayed opening at polling places due to the late arrival of ballots. But, there were also signs of a determined effort by the various political factions to mobilize their supporters and get them to the polls. In the West Bank town of Jericho, activists organized private cars to form a shuttle service to get out the vote. The balloting is the first since presidential elections in 1996 that made Yasser Arafat president of the Palestinian Authority.