31 localities hold runoff elections

Residents of 31 local authorities went to the polls Tuesday to finish what they started two weeks ago, choosing the heads of their cities and towns in runoff elections between the two leading contenders. The second round was being held in locales where none of the candidates carried at least 40 percent of the vote on November 11. Thirteen of the elections were held in the Jewish sector and 18 in the Arab. Jewish cities going to the polls included Ashkelon, Kiryat Shmona, Safed and Rehovot. The largest Arab authority was Shfaram. The polls opened at 1 p.m. and closed at 10 p.m. In Ashkelon, which is facing the threat of Grad missiles from the Gaza Strip, former mayor Benny Vaknin was running against Itamar Shimoni. Outgoing Mayor Roni Mahazri was defeated after coming in third in the first round. In Safed, the vote was between Yishai Maimon of the National Union-NRP and Kadima representative Ilan Shohat, who headed the opposition in the outgoing municipal council. In voting for the council this time, a religious-haredi bloc won eight of the 15 seats. In Kiryat Shmona, Rabbi Nissim Malcha, the head of the opposition in the outgoing council, was running against Ya'acov "Benzi" Ben-Zion, who recently left the army, where he served as commander of the city and its environs.