JERUSALEM (Nov. 8)
Incumbents generally held their own in yesterday’s municipal elections which were marked by voter apathy and brought few if any changes in the national political alignment. Despite a new law declaring election day a national holiday, only 50 percent of the 2.2 million eligible voters bothered to cost ballots nationwide.
The turnout was slightly higher in small townships but lower in the cities. An exception was the Arab sector where 70 percent of the eligible went to the polls. The biggest surprise was in East Jerusalem where 8500 Arabs cast ballots, triple the usual number, contributing to the landslide victory of incumbent Mayor Teddy Kollek.
Kollek, the most durable politician in Israel, won 63 percent of the total vote, including 90 percent of those cast by Arabs. His “One Jerusalem” list won 15-16 seats on the town council, compared to the 14 after the previous election. Kollek’s Likud opponent, Yehoshua Matzo, received only 13 percent of the vote and the Likud council list 14 percent.
The elections were the first in Israel in which voters cast separate ballots for mayor and town councils. They were also the first municipal elections to be held in an off year.
NO NATIONAL IMPLICATION SEEN
But the results do not appear to have national implications. Kollek, who has held the mayoralty for 13 years, scored a personal triumph that seemed to have little to do with his Labor Party affiliation. In Tel Aviv, Israel’s largest city, the voters gave Likud Mayor Shlomo Lehat a second four-year term by a greater margin than four years ago. In Haifa, always a Labor stronghold, Labor Party Mayor Aryeh Gur retained office with a substantial margin. Bnai Brak remained in religious hands, Ramat Gan and Ashdod retained their Likud mayors and councils. Beersheba remained in Labor hands, although incumbent Mayor Eliyahu Nawi had campaigned on a nonpartisan ticket. Holon and Eilat also remained in the Labor camp while Lod and Rehovot voted Likud as they had in the last elections.
The only notable upset occurred in Afula, the largest town in the Jezreel Valley, where the Likud list toppled the Labor incumbents. Likud claimed victory in 10 former Labor localities. But these were all small settlements not considered indicative of a national trend.
COMMUNIST VOTE WEAKENED
The Arab voting patterns were, perhaps, the most significant inasmuch as the returns showed a weakening of Communist strength in the Arab towns of Galilee and the so-called “Arab triangle.” Communist Mayor Tawfik Zayyad won re-election in Nazareth over weak opposition on the person of ex-Mayor Seif A Din Zuabi who had Labor Alignment support. But Labor activists insisted that the out-come might have been different had there been a stronger challenger. In several other towns, moderate Arab candidates ousted the Communists. The latter were defeated in Tira, a town of 15,000 where ex-Mayor Ibrahim Kassem, a moderate defeated four years ago, was returned to office. Some observers expressed confidence that fewer Arabs will vote Communist in the next Knesset elections.
Kollek was especially pleased with his strong showing in East Jerusalem. He toured that part of the city yesterday and observed: “By going to the polls, the Arabs of Jerusalem expressed their satisfaction with the management of the city.” He repeated his earlier promise to work for greater independence for East Jerusalem Arabs. He thanked his supporters all over the city and assured them he had enough energy to continue running the city through the year 2000.
There will be run-off elections in 21 townships, including Neranya and Ashkelon, where no candidate polled the required 40 percent of the vote. The large number of stay-at-homes among the Jewish population has politicians worried. It was not simply a matter of indifference. In many towns, eligible voters refused to cast ballots as a form of protest against local authorities who they claimed paid no attention to their needs. But many politicians are re-thinking the wisdom of having off-year elections when voter enthusiasm is likely to be at a low ebb. They are also having second thoughts about the national holiday that was intended to stimulate voter turnout. Many businesses simply ignored it and remained open.
Israel Television conducted a poll of voters to see how they would have voted in a national election if one had been held yesterday. Questionnaires answered by a population sample of 22,000 showed that if elections were held now, the gap between Labor and Likud would be closed. Likud would gain one seat, bringing its Knesset strength from 45 to 46 mandates. Labor would gain II seats jumping from 33 in the present Knesset to 44. But this would obviously be at the expense of the Democratic Movement for Change (DMC) which, for all practical purposes no longer exists. The DMC recently split into two movements and, according to the poll, they would win no more than three Knesset seats between them if elections were held now. The two DMC factions fared poorly in the municipal contests.