Palestinians are voting in their first parliamentary elections in ten years to select a new 132 seat Legislative Council. Thousands of Palestinian police have been deployed to provide election security, but nearly all Palestinian factions have pledged not to disrupt the vote.
The elections are a contest between the ruling Fatah Party of Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, and the Islamic militant organization, Hamas, which is running under the party name of Reform and Change.
Polls show the ruling Fatah Party with a slight lead over Hamas, which has sworn to destroy Israel.
More than one million Palestinians are eligible to vote, including residents of East Jerusalem, where this woman voted early Wednesday at a post office across from Jerusalem's Old City.
"I think there are many hopes for Palestinians because this time is very special because you have many voices, Hamas, Fatah, and all of them are like a group of parties to bring Palestinians to freedom."
Each voter can cast two ballots. Half of the seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council will be decided by votes for national party lists, and the other half by voting in 16 local district elections. Each of the parties competing has to get at least two-percent of the
vote to gain a seat in the legislature and six of the 11 parties contesting are expected to do so.
More than 300 international observers are in place to monitor the vote and post-election developments. Observer, Trine Mach, from Denmark says voting in the East Jerusalem post office she was monitoring was orderly, but voters did not have much privacy to cast their ballots.
"I think the fact that the post office people only knew recently that it was going to be a polling station makes it hard to stick to the procedures the same way. The only thing that could be a bit worrying is that people have to vote in public. There are no small rooms where they can go with their voting lists. They have to do it in front of everyone."
Palestinians will have until early evening to cast their ballots at more than one-thousand polling stations. 728 candidates are competing in districts and on party lists. Early results could be made public by late Wednesday night.