TEL AVIV (Mar. 1)
Labor was trounced by Likud in mayoral and town council elections Tuesday.
The voter turnout was uncharacteristically low, except in the Arab sector, where emergent Moslem fundamentalist factions scored strong gains.
As expected, Mayors Teddy Kollek of Jerusalem and Shlomo Lehat of Tel Aviv were easily reelected. The outcome of the mayoral race in Haifa, however, was unclear.
Likud and religious party candidates prevailed in six major cities and many smaller localities previously held by Labor, in what appeared to be a reprise of the Nov. 1 Knesset elections.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir claimed national as well as local significance for the results. He said they made clear to the world that the Likud party and its ideology are the dominant factor in Israeli polities.
Vice Premier Shimon Peres, the Labor Party leader, claimed Shamir was misreading the results. But he was clearly unable to mollify middle-and lower-echelon Labor politicians, who demanded an investigation into the debacle and a “house cleaning” by the party.
Internal moves to unseat the present leadership began after Labor was edged out by Likud in the Knesset race last November. They were doubtless given new impetus by Tuesday’s setbacks.
Many critics in Labor say if the party cannot reverse its losses and block advances by Likud, it will remain out of power for decades to come.
RESULTS UNCLEAR IN HAIFA
More immediate concerns were expressed over the Histadrut elections in six months.
Labor has dominated the trade union federation since its founding decades, before Israel’s independence. But current trends do not auger well.
A case in point is the port city of Haifa, a bastion of Labor strength during the more than 40 years since independence.
The Likud mayoral candidate, Rami Dotan, was claiming victory Wednesday, in what Likud has derisively called “Red Haifa.”
With the final results still unclear by afternoon, Dotan boasted that he had “taken the red out of Haifa” and replaced it “with the blue and white,” Israel’s national colors.
But incumbent Laborite Arye Gurel insisted that the “Labor flagship” would remain in his hands.
Labor was upset in most of its other traditional strongholds. Ramat Gan, Beersheba, Petach Tikva, Ashdod and Holon all elected Likud mayors. Likud and religious party candidates took over their town councils, as well.
The only important Labor victory was in Rehovot, where the Likud mayor was beaten.
Jerusalem’s immensely popular Mayor Kollek won re-election with about 58 percent of the votes. His Labor-backed “One Jerusalem” list won the City Council, but with a reduced majority.
The voter turnout in Jerusalem was only 44.5 percent. Turnout was an almost in visible 3 percent in East Jerusalem, where Arab voters were under severe pressure from Palestinian nationalists to boycott the elections.
GAIN FOR FUNDAMENTALISTS
Kollek’s victory was widely viewed as personal. He is one of the most widely admired political figures in Israel and its only mayor of international renown.
Labor also is crediting the personal popularity of Likud Mayor Lehat for his landslide reelection in Tel Aviv. Lehat took about 51 percent of the vote to 22 percent for his Labor challenger, Natan Wolloch.
Laborites point out that Lehat is probably the most dovish of Likud politicians and has spoken out against his party’s positions on the administered territories.
“Tel Aviv was a personal, not a Likud victory,” Peres stressed.
But Likud also won 41 percent of the City Council vote, compared to Labor’s 22 percent. The religious bloc made a major gain there, too. It won nearly 15 percent of the council seats, up from 9 percent.
Countrywide, voter turnout averaged only 48 percent in Jewish localities, even though Election Day was a national holiday.
That was attributed to sunny springlike weather that sent thousands of Israelis to the beaches instead of the lines outside the polling stations.
Not so in the Arab sector, where voter turnout averaged an unprecedented 80 percent. It soared to 90 percent in Umm el-Fahm, the second largest Arab city in Israel.
There Moslem fundamentalists known as the Islamic bloc ousted the incumbent Communist Party for the first time. The fundamentalists made similar advances in all other Arab localities.
The final election results probably will not be known before Thursday or Friday, when all of the ballots, including votes cast by soldiers at military bases, will have been counted, In localities where no mayoral candidate won at least 40 percent of the vote, runoff elections will be held in two weeks.