Low turn-out in Israeli mayoral, council elections

By 8:30 p.m. 42 percent had voted, down from last elections; party leaders urge voters to cast a ballot; Tel Aviv's Huldai and Jerusalem's Barkat fighting to keep their jobs; polls closed at 10 p.m.

Netanyahu Jerusalem elections 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Netanyahu Jerusalem elections 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Low voter turnout was reported in cities across the country when Israelis went to the ballot box for municipal elections on Tuesday, with 42.63 percent of Israel’s 5,469,041 eligible voters casting their votes at the country’s 8,771 polling stations as of 8:30 p.m.

The numbers were a significant drop from 2008, when 51% of voters took part across Israel, and far below the 66.6% turnout in the last Knesset election.Israelis voting in the election cast two ballots – one for the mayor or local authority head and the second for the party list.The turnout was even lower in Israel’s two flagship municipal races, in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, where only 22% reported by 8:30 p.m. and 32% in the capital.Though voting results weren’t posted by press time, it was expected that incumbent Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai would retain his post, as well as incumbents Ruvik Danilovich in Beersheba and Yona Yahav in Haifa. In Jerusalem, incumbent Nir Barkat was in a hotly contested battle with challenger Moshe Lion.Much higher than average turnout was reported across the Arab sector, including Ka’abiyye-Tabbash-Hajajre with 92%, Sakhnin with 87%, Kfar Qara with 78%, and Abu Ghosh and Abu Sanaan, where 67% and 70% of voters took part in the election.Some of the lowest participation rates were reported in the neighboring Jewish towns of Bat Yam, Holon, and Rishon Lezion in central Israel, with turnouts of 24%, 25%, and 27%.Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, whose ministry is responsible for municipal elections, expressed concern over the low turnout numbers in the afternoon.“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.”Though tensions were high in places like Beit Shemesh and Jerusalem, candidates in much of the country were busy battling apathy, trying to convince people to exercise their democratic rights after 8,771 ballot boxes were set up in 191 municipalities at 7 a.m.Mayors of major cities like Haifa, Beersheba and Tel Aviv were expected to be reelected by wide margins, which could have kept voters home. In fact, 70% of the 689 mayors were running for reelection. “People have given their lives to have the right to vote – just look at our neighboring countries – and yet there are a lot of people who aren’t voting,” Netanya Mayor Miriam Feirberg-Ikar, who had a good chance at reelection, said Tuesday afternoon.Throughout Tuesday, ministers and MKs crisscrossed the country to support their parties’ lists, but Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu kept mum as to who he chose in the tight Jerusalem mayoral race.Netanyahu refused to reveal whether or not he voted for his party’s official candidate Lion, who was handpicked by Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, who campaigned for Lion himself, and Shas leader Arye Deri.Opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) called for voters to “choose candidates who aren’t corrupt and don’t wait for the High Court to depose mayors.”“Mayors have a deep influence on citizens’ lives, sometimes even more than ministers and MKs, so I call for the public to go to the polls,” she added.Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett traveled throughout the South expressing hope that Tuesday would be the last day that Bayit Yehudi doesn’t have any mayors.“Bayit Yehudi hopes to double its power and turn into an influential factor in local politics like it is nationally,” he said.Both Bayit Yehudi and Yesh Atid invested substantial efforts in local elections as part of a strategy to further establish themselves as major parties.Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party is backing an Ethiopian- Israeli candidate for mayor of Kiryat Malachi – the first from the community to ever run for mayor in Israel – and several others for city council.The youngest mayoral candidate in the country, Moti Haziza, 29, is running with the Bayit Yehudi.Shas leader Deri started his day by visiting the grave of his party’s recently deceased spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.The Sephardic-haredi party has 87 lists running in the election, as well as candidates for mayor in Elad, Beit Shemesh, Emanuel and Or Yehuda.Two MKs are running for mayor: Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) in Tel Aviv and Haneen Zoabi (Balad) in Nazareth. If they win they will have to resign from the Knesset.In Ariel, by the closing of the polls last night, there was a 47% voter turnout of the 14,441 eligible voters choosing among 25 ballots, according to Interior Ministry data.By evening, mayoral candidate Hana Golan posted on her Facebook wall that rumors she had withdrawn from the race were false and encouraged voters to continue to go out and vote.Golan’s daughter Bat, speaking to The Jerusalem Post by phone said people were spitting on members of Golan’s team.Reached by phone, incumbent Mayor Eli Shaviro said he didn’t hear about the spitting and that his team had given guidance to supporters on how to behave and believes his supporters behaved with respect and dignity. He said throughout the day he was focused on the task ahead and feels content with the amount of people that came out to vote.In Beit Shemesh, eight people were arrested with more than 200 fraudulent ID cards, but otherwise police reported only minor disturbances at polling places across the country on Tuesday.Police officers fielded about 1,060 election complaints, most of which were smallscale events, and campaigns reported only sporadic ballot irregularities. Police responded to 400 disturbances around polling stations and 370 complaints about illegal election propaganda.Altogether 16 people were detained and 20 arrested in relation to voting throughout Tuesday.Officers arrested two people for allegedly fighting at a polling place in Saknin, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. In addition, police officers are searching for a person in Jerusalem who allegedly waved a knife and “threatened people in connection with elections,” he said.A polling station on Ussishkin Street in Jerusalem was closed after election officials noticed the disappearance of ballots for mayoral candidate Lion, his campaign reported.Lion’s team set up headquarters in the capital’s Ramada Renaissance Hotel after the polls closed, with the expectations of holding a victory party when the results were announced.Lion’s camp was bolstered by the relatively high turnout from the haredi neighborhoods of Jerusalem, compared to the light turnout in the mixed secular and religious neighborhoods.Laura Kelly contributed to this report.