TEL AVIV (May. 14)
Likud took a sound drubbing in yesterday’s Histadrut elections and its control of local labor councils was reduced from two to one.
With 90 percent of the vote counted, the Labor Party had won 66.7 percent of the 1,501 delegates to the Histadrut Conference, the labor federation’s highest policy-making body, and Likud 21.4 percent. This represents a five percent gain for Labor and a five percent loss for Likud. Absentee ballots and soldiers’ votes yet to be tallied are not expected to change the results.
In the outgoing conference, elected four years ago, Labor’s edge over Likud was 61.98 percent to 26.35 percent. Pundits were saying before yesterday’s elections that if Labor substantially increased its lead over Likud, the results would have national political implications that could affect the future of the Labor-Likud unity coalition government.
LABOR AND LIKUD REACTIONS
Labor leaders, including Premier Shimon Peres and incumbent Histadrut Secretary General Yisrael Kessar, now assured of election to a full four-year term, were predictably elated that the exit-poll forecasts of a big Labor victory last night were borne out by the vote count.
Deputy Premier and Housing Minister David Levy of Likud, brushing aside Likud’s losses, stressed that his party “broke the 20 percent barrier.” He said the results showed that “The Likud is a hard nut to crack.”
In the polling for local labor councils in 72 districts around the country, Likud lost the only two it previously controlled, but picked up one, at Ofakim.
COMMUNIST PARTY GAINS
Of the smaller parties running in the elections, only the Hadash (Communist) Party gained. It won 4.1 percent of the delegates, up from 3.58 percent in the outgoing conference. The Shinui Party which won 2.16 percent four years ago, was shut out in yesterday’s balloting. It polled only 1.3 percent of the vote, well below the two percent minimum required for representation in the Histadrut Conference.
The combined Civil Rights Movement-Sheli list, running for the first time in a Histadrut election, barely made it with 2.7 percent of the vote. Another first-time runner, the rightwing Tehiya Party, came close to the borderline with 1.9 percent of the votes as of noon today. It may pick up a few more when the last ballots are counted and break the two percent barrier.
The Histadrut Conference, which elects the labor federation’s governing bodies is officially concerned with local economic and social issues and the welfare of Israel’s work force, 85 percent of which belongs to Histadrut unions.
Some observers, nevertheless, see it as an analogue of the Knesset and interpret yesterday’s election results to indicate a slight but not insignificant rise in the popularity of the Labor Party since Peres became Premier nine months ago.
They see further polarization between Labor and Likud, the two major components of the unity government and the largest parties in the Knesset.
According to these observers, while it is by no means certain or even probable at this point, the Histadrut election results may lead to the breakup of the unity coalition and new Knesset elections before Peres is obliged to hand over the Premiership to Likud leader Yitzhak Shamir next year, under the coalition agreement.
While Likud leaders are putting the best possible face on the election results, they can hardly take heart from the fact that one of the two labor councils they lost was Beth Shean, hometown of Levy who is a rising power in Likud’s Herut wing. They failed to win in northern border localities such as Kiryat Shemona where they won handsomely in the 1981 and 1984 Knesset elections on the slogan “no more Katyushas (rockets) in Galilee.”
Likud, however, campaigned more vigorously than Labor for the Histadrut vote, sending several of their most popular Cabinet ministers to the hustings. Labor did not follow suit in what was seen as a low key, lackluster campaign by all participants.
NEW TOUGH ECONOMIC MEASURES EXPECTED
With Histadrut firmly in the hands of Labor for the next four years, economists and the general public expect new, tough economic and fiscal measures by Likud Finance Minister Yitzhak Modai aimed at curing the ailing economy.
Those measures, which could result in substantial unemployment, would be taken with the assent or at least the acquiescence of Peres and Histadrut chief Kessar who understand as well as anybody the need for drastic economic cutbacks and reforms.
One lesson learned from yesterday’s elections was that a public holiday need not be declared in order to get Israelis to the polls. While the voting was sluggish during the day, it picked up toward evening.
More than 50 percent of the 1.5 million eligible voters turned out and by the time all of the ballots are counted, a turn-out of close to 56 percent is expected. This would be about the same as the voter turn-out in Knesset elections for which a public holiday is declared.