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Labor Smarting from Its Defeat in 12 Major Mayoral Contests

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Angry rumblings of discontent are sweeping the rank and file of the Labor Party in the aftermath of Likud’s widespread victories in Tuesday’s mayoral and town council elections.

As a result, the months ahead may see sweeping reforms of the party’s apparatus and changes of leadership, political observers believe.

Likud candidates unseated 12 Labor incumbent mayors while Laborites managed to oust Likud and independent rivals in only three localities.

Labor took some consolation in retaining the northern port city of Haifa, which the party has governed without interruption for more than 40 years. But its victory was close, and Likud may demand a replay.

The Labor Party’s new secretary-general, Micha Harish, who took office officially Thursday, said he would convene the party’s leadership bureau and Central Committee to examine the causes of Labor’s latest defeat.

But he will hold off until after the March 14 runoff elections in 21 communities where no mayoral candidate won 40 percent of the vote.

He stressed that the party’s energies must focus now on the Histadrut elections six months away.

The goal is to ensure the re-election of Laborite Yisrael Kessar as secretary-general of the trade union federation, against what is expected to be a powerful challenge by Likud.

But Labor’s trouncing by Likud on Tuesday and in the Knesset elections last Nov. l has created a groundswell of unrest in the party on all levels.

Knesset Whip Haim Ramon said the municipal election results proved he was right when he insisted after the November loss that Labor take the role of a “fighting and constructive” opposition.

VOTE IN HAIFA CONTESTED

Instead, it became the junior member of a coalition with Likud and the whipping boy for unpopular policies on the economy and the handling of the Palestinian uprising, Ramon said.

Completion of the civilian ballot count in Haifa gave Labor incumbent Mayor Arye Gurel 40.5 percent of the vote, barely enough to defeat his Likud challenger. The soldier vote, still being tallied, is not expected to change the outcome.

But Likud, which made gains in the Haifa City Council, is charging “numerous incidents of illegal voting and mishandling of ballot slips.”

Foreign Minister Moshe Arens, Likud’s election campaign manager, said his party may demand new elections in Haifa.

It is considering application to the High Court of Justice for an order restraining Labor from acting on the election results, pending an appeal for a new round of voting, Arens said.

Labor officials said Likud was proving to be “bad losers.”

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