Labor Retains Control of Histadrut; Likud Showing Weaker Than Expected

Israelis who voted in the Histadrut elections Monday left the giant trade union federation in the hands of the Labor Party, depriving Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir of a political advantage he had hoped to exploit on his visit to the United States this week.

Shamir’s Likud bloc was aiming for a third of the votes in the new Histadrut Executive.

It won 28 percent, according to an Israel Television sample poll broadcast at 10 p.m. local time, just as the 3,000 voting stations around the country closed.

According to the poll, Labor scored 54 percent, about as expected. Mapam surprised many by winning an estimated 10 percent share of the vote. The joint Jewish-Arab list got 5 percent, and the Citizens Rights Movement squeezed by with 3 percent, the threshold for representation in Histadrut bodies. All other parties fell short.

Pollsters Mina Zemach and Yohanan Peres warned there was a 2 to 3 percent margin for error in their survey, which was based on a sampling of 7,560 voters.

But as returns began to come in, they seemed confident of the accuracy of their projection.

There was jubilation at Labor Party head-quarters over the apparent results.

Likud’s reaction was more subdued. A spokesman said the party hoped to reach 30 percent when all of the votes are counted. But their goal of 34 percent appeared to be out of reach.

MAPAM MAKES STRONG SHOWING

That must have been a disappointment for Shamir, who departed for the United States shortly after the results were announced on television. He will be having important diplomatic talks, including a meeting with President Bush at the White House on Wednesday.

The prime minister had hoped to be able to point to a strong showing in Histadrut, a traditional Labor stronghold, as evidence that Likud’s foreign policies enjoy massive popular support in Israel.

Throughout the election campaign, Shamir hammered away at the idea that the Histadrut vote would be as much or more a referendum on peace policy than on labor-related matters.

The Labor Party denied that at first. But when it became clear that Likud was bitterly divided over Shamir’s peace plan, Laborites stopped rebutting the prime minister’s argument.

Likud did make gains. Its 28 percent, if it holds, is a considerable improvement over the 22 percent it won in the last Histadrut election in 1985.

Moreover, it was disadvantaged by running the little known Ya’acov Shammai for Histadrut secretary-general against Labor’s popular Yisrael Kessar, who is now assured of a second term.

Nevertheless, if Likud still lacks the clout to block major constitutional measures in the Histadrut Central Committee, it may be able to console itself by winning control of a string of local labor councils dominated up until now by Labor. The local councils ran separate slates.

Laborites played down the success of Mapam, noting that it achieved 12 percent when it ran jointly with Labor in 1985.

But independent observers credited its popular candidate, Yair Tsaban, with a fine showing. When Mapam announced it would run independently, pollsters hardly gave the small left-wing party the 3 percent minimum.

Kessar said Labor and Mapam together were likely to end up in a stronger position than what they attained in 1985. That would be an important achievement, given Labor’s downward drift in the political arena in recent years.

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