Incumbents Carry Most Israeli Municipal Elections Amid Disappointing Turnout

YERUSHALAYIM -
Top: Voting at a polling station on October 22, 2013, in Bnei Brak during Israel's municipal election, Tuesday. Bottom: Discarded campaign fliers   litter the street. (FLASH90)
Top: Voting at a polling station on October 22, 2013, in Bnei Brak during Israel’s municipal election, Tuesday. Bottom: Discarded campaign fliers
litter the street. (FLASH90)

Residents of Yerushalayim awoke on Wednesday morning — if they went to sleep at all — to find Mayor Nir Barkat as their mayor for another five years. Barkat, in what had been forecast as a very close election, appeared to have won with most of the votes counted at 2:30 a.m. Israel time by 52% over Moshe Leon with 43%.

In the city council, the largest party remains United Torah Judaism, with 8 seats. Shas got between 5 and 6 seats,  and Bnei Torah got one seat on the council. Moshe Leon, with his Likud-Beiteinu list, may not even put one mandate into the council. Tov, a religious party which tried to run for the first time in Yerushalayim, did not pass.

In Tel Aviv, incumbent Ron Huldai defeated the nearest contenders by over 10 points.

In Haifa, another incumbent, Yona Yahav, won re-election.

In Bnei Brak, Chanoch Zeibart took 94% of the vote. He was backed by all chareidi parties in the city.

In Beit Shemesh, with 90% of the votes counted, Moshe Abutbul (Shas) leads by 2,000 votes out of some 30,000 votes cast in total, virtually guaranteeing his victory. The secular candidate, Eli Cohen, ran as a member of Jewish Home with the support of Likud-Beiteinu and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, but Abutbul got enough secular and national religious votes to thwart his efforts in those communities.

In the Beit Shemesh city council, Shas and Degel HaTorah will have 3 seats each, Agudas Yisrael has between 2 and 3 seats on the council, while Koach, a new local party, got one seat.

Tov, a party that had seats in the outgoing council, did not pass the threshold.

In Elad, a chareidi town near Petach Tikva, Yisrael Porush (UTJ) won by a margin of 500 votes after a election campaign with Tzuriel Krispal from Shas.

Incumbent Yaakov Gutterman won in Modiin Illit.

In Beitar Ilit, Meir Rubinstein was reelected by a wide margin.

In Ashdod, Dr. Yechiel Lassry, who won his previous term with chareidi support, was also re-elected.

Rachamim Melul, the mayor of Rechovot, won re-election by a wide margin despite a non-chareidi majority in the city.

In Kiryat Gat, the incumbent, Aviram Dahari, who had the support of chareidi parties, won with 63%, while his opponent, who campaigned against chareidim got 23%.

An upset in Beit She’an saw 10-year incumbent Jackie Levi, a son of former Foreign Minister David Levi, beaten by Rafi Ben Sheetrit by 70 votes.

Neither fair weather nor the pleadings of Israeli politicians could bring voters out to the polls on Tuesday for municipal elections.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu cast his vote early in the day, telling Israelis that the municipal elections are “important” and they should vote, but it did not seem like many were paying attention.

By the afternoon hours, a distressingly low turnout prompted Interior Minister Gideon Saar, whose ministry is responsible for municipal elections, to express concern at a press conference.

“It’s very important to vote and I call on citizens to vote,” he said. “I hope that we’ll see a rise in the numbers in the coming hours.”

Perhaps no one in the country shared that hope more than Yerushalayim’s mayor Nir Barkat, who feared that a low turnout could destroy his chances for a second term.

Barkat’s six point lead over challenger Moshe Lion in a Globes poll published last week looked increasingly tenuous as the day wore on, and both campaigns repeatedly urged their supporters to go out and vote. Turnout in the capital was reportedly somewhat less than other cities.

By the time the polls closed, at 10 p.m. (Israel time), in Yerushalayim turnout was a mere 35.9%.

In the country overall, only 42% of the 5,469,041 eligible voters cast their vote in 191 cities and towns. That compares with 66.6 percent at the last general election on January 22, even though the choice of mayor and city council members arguably have more impact on the citizen’s daily life than that of prime minister and members of Knesset.

Those who did come out to vote were not necessarily well-behaved in the fulfillment of their civic duty. The police said they had received a total of 1060 complaints, including 370 for election propaganda fraud and 400 for disturbing the peace near ballot boxes.  Altogether, 16 people were detained, and 20 arrested for disturbing the peace, fraud, and assault, Ynet reported.