Israelis voted Tuesday in local elections to determine the mayor and council members of local governments throughout the country, including cities and regional councils.
Local governments, of which there are 183, are responsible for much of the government services which affect day-to-day life in Israel, and, since Knesset voting is not linked to location, the local elections constitute the main opportunity for Israelis to use their democratic rights to influence policies implemented in their immediate area.
Voter turnout for local elections is traditionally much lower than national polls, and that remained the case Tuesday, even though there were a number of hotly contested races around the country, including in Jerusalem, where incumbent Nir Barkat was bidding to retain his mayoral seat against newcomer Moshe Lion. Polls were open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The Times of Israel liveblogged all day and into the night, through to Barkat’s victory speech at 3.40 a.m. Wednesday.
Polls open, drawing politicians
Polls opened across the country with little incident Tuesday morning. Many politicians exercised their democratic rights early, including President Shimon Peres, who voted at the Jerusalem High School for the Arts, near his office.
Peres called on everybody — young and old — to vote. “The role of the city in your day-to-day life is just as important as the national government,” he said in a press statement.
Jerusalem mayoral candidate Moshe Lion also headed to the polls, after an early morning prayer session at the Western Wall and a visit to the grave of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
Lion told reporters he is expecting “a big victory.” While he has the wide backing of the city’s ultra-Orthodox political machine, a recent poll showed him expected to lose by some 20 percentage points to current mayor Nir Barkat.
Local voting day may become holiday … next time around
Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar said he may consider making voting day for local polls a national holiday after the current round of elections.
“Indifference and corruption go hand in hand, so voting is important,” he said, addressing the low voter turnout expected.
Currently, only national elections are considered a national holiday, during which schools and government offices are closed and businesses have to pay employees extra for working.
Brawl at voting center between ultra-Orthodox parties
Religious news site Kikar Hashabbat is reporting that a physical altercation erupted at a polling station in Ramat Shlomo in Jerusalem. Activists from Degel Hatorah, a major ultra-Orthodox party, overturned a table and attacked members of the Tov Party, a new religious party which advocates for military service and employment for the ultra-Orthodox.
Lod city council candidate shot on eve of elections
Police arrested two men in Tuesday in connection with the Monday night shooting of a Lod city council candidate.
Abd al-Karim Azbarga, an A-Nida Al Arab party candidate for city council, was leaving a campaign event at a house in Lod shortly before midnight, when a masked man shot him in the stomach. Paramedics took him to Assaf Harofeh Medical Center in Tzrifin in serious condition.
The two suspects are currently in police custody for questioning and will be taken to Ramla Magistrate Court later for a remand hearing.
Police are investigating whether the shooting was politically motivated.
Tensions between Arabs and Jews in the mixed city have run high in the run-up to the polls, which opened Tuesday morning.
After the shooting, supporters of Azbarga gave Channel 10 a recording of mayoral candidate Yoram Marciano allegedly inciting against Arabs.
In the recording a man who is allegedly Marciano said that he sees Lod is no longer a Jewish city and specifically notes that Azbarga is head of the city’s parent-teacher association. He went on to say that there is an existential threat to the demographics of the country.
Marciano categorically denied that it was his voice on the recording and accused the staff of an opponent of trying to use the incident to their advantage.
Moshe Lion parked in the red to vote
Candidate for Jerusalem mayor Moshe Lion, when he went to vote earlier in the Katamon neighborhood, parked his car in a prohibited location, a red and white zone near his polling location, Maariv reports.
No word on if he received a ticket or not.
Politicians upbeat as they cast their votes
Prime Minister Netanyahu took the opportunity to reiterate his commitment to Jerusalem and urge citizens to vote as he cast his ballot in Jerusalem.
“As long as I am prime minister, Jerusalem will remain our united capital,” he said, according to Israel National News. “I want to tell you that yesterday I received a birthday gift and I was very happy: Beitar Jerusalem 1-0.” The PM turned 64 on Monday.
Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party, was optimistic about the outlook for his party as he cast his vote near his home in Ra’anana Tuesday.
“This is the last day Jewish Home will not hold at least one mayoral office,” he said. “Jewish Home aims to double its power today and become an influencing factor in local politics as well as nationwide. These elections, we focused on the periphery: Kiryat Malachi, Sderot, Tirat Hacarmel and other places. Something new will start today in local politics as well.”
Tel Aviv mayoral candidate MK Nitzan Horowitz was upbeat about his chances and also took the time to pitch future legislation.
“People are coming up to me, hugging and getting their pictures taken, and we’re very optimistic,” he said, according to Yedioth Ahronoth.
“I intend to shorten the duration of a mayor’s term in office,” Israel National News quoted Horowitz. “As in many places in the world, we need to have it so that a mayor will serve a maximum two terms and 10 years total.”
Low turnout reported so far
Israel Radio reports that as of noon Tuesday, only 9 percent of the total population, and just 4% in Jerusalem, have voted so far in the local elections.
This is “much lower” that what was reported for the same time during the last local election, the radio station said.
Last-minute canvassers still trying to persuade
Many political parties have dispatched agents to polling stations throughout the country in a last-minute attempt to convince undecided citizens.
At polls, 300 violations so far
The Israeli police say that there have been around 300 reported incidents at polling stations so far that have required police involvement. About 100 of those were incidents of disturbing the peace.
Nir Barkat out campaigning in Jerusalem
Jerusalem’s incumbent mayor, Nir Barkat, is actively campaigning and was seen at around 12:30 p.m. on the capital’s Emek Refaim Street, where he was described by Times of Israel blogger Arieh Kovler as being “mobbed” by press and supporters.
High turnout by residents of Jerusalem’s more affluent neighborhoods, natural Barkat supporters, will be crucial for him to retain the mayoralty.
Jerusalem turnout at 7%; Israeli-Arabs get out the vote
Around seven percent of Jerusalem residents have voted so far, up from the previously reported 4%. Army Radio reports that a computer error was responsible for the previously released low figure, and that a separate computer problem is preventing the release of voting figures from Tel Aviv.
Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar says that among Jewish citizens, the ultra-Orthodox turnout has been relatively high but turnout in secular areas has been relatively low, so far.
Sa’ar also notes that turnout has been “relatively high” in non-Jewish sectors. Israel Radio reports that in the Israeli-Arab village of Abu Ghosh, outside Jerusalem, turnout is already at 30%.
Reading while you’re voting
While voting continues, here’s a small selection of Times of Israel electoral coverage you might want to (re)read:
First up, this is Haviv Rettig Gur telling you WHY, if you have them, you ought to exercise your democratic rights today. “Turnout is traditionally lower in local elections, but it shouldn’t be,” notes Gur. “In the Israeli system, local governments handle much of the workload when it comes to education, welfare services, environmental regulations and cleanup, fire and rescue services, cultural events – in short, most of the public services that most Israelis actually consume.”
Next, this is Yifa Yaakov, on the unpleasant mini-TV face-off last night between Barkat and Lior. Asked by the interviewer if he had anything positive to say about his rival, Lion responded: ‘After three months of lies and slander by his campaign managers, I don’t even have one good thing to say about him.’ Asked the same question, Barkat said he wished Lion well in his future moves — indicating his conviction that Lion, who only recently relocated to Jerusalem from his home town of Givatayim, would not be taking over at City Hall.”
This is Raphael Ahren’s overview of the unexpectedly bitter Jerusalem mayoral contest. He notes: “Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, and both the Barkat and Lion camps have the numbers to prove that Jerusalem is either up and coming or going down the drain. The vote on October 22 may be less about which of them is right. Rather, some 550,000 Jerusalem voters will decide which contender will better advance their interests in the city.”
Here’s Jessica Steinberg on Rachel Azaria, a Jerusalem city councilor bidding for reelection on social, educational and “lifestyle” issues — such as who runs the city’s mikvahs.
Meanwhile, in Beit Shemesh, a very close contest is underway between Shas’s ultra-Orthodox incumbent Moshe Abutbul and secular challenger Eli Cohen. In which context, American immigrant, former Beit Shemesh political activist, and current Yesh Atid MK Rabbi Dov Lipman had some insider thoughts in our long interview in February.
Looking at the national implications of today’s vote, Haviv Rettig Gur assets in this piece that “more than at any time in memory, the local ballots will be watched carefully by national parties as signals of their own political future.”
Earlier this month, Elhanan Miller visited Nazareth, where he found “the largest Arab city in Israel impoverished and depressed,” a place where residents are “the most likely Israelis to fear falling victim to crime.” Long-time Mayor Ramez Jaraisy, a Christian, is attempting to keep his position against a number of challengers including MK Hanin Zoabi, a controversial, secular Muslim parliamentarian from the Balad party who has deep political roots in the city.
And finally, this is Debra Kamin’s round-up of several Anglo immigrant candidates in the running today. “Taken together, the quartet represents a cross-section of Anglo Jewry in Israel: There’s Maya Tapiero, a 27-year-old student from Montreal, who’s running with the female-centric Ometz Lev party and committed to upgrading city planning in Jerusalem; Jonathan Javor, a 31-year-old from England who has a wealth of experience in the Knesset and the Tel Aviv mayor’s ear; Jonny Cline, a British 38-year-old who left a West Bank settlement to raise his three children in Modi’in; and Rabbi Avrohom Leventhal, a religious grandfather who left the high-tech world in order to embrace public service in Beit Shemesh.”
Even if they don’t win, writes Kamen, “all four say their very presence on party lists and in the public eye shows that things are changing for Western newcomers to Israel.”
Campaign posters in Mea Shearim
A selection of campaign posters in the capital’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim evoke the power of the recently deceased Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who has purportedly made clear from beyond the grave, according to some, his preference for Moshe Lion.
Lion ballots missing at Jerusalem polling place
Voting has been temporarily canceled at a polling center in Jerusalem, after the ballots for challenger Moshe Lion were discovered to be missing.
Workers at the center, located on Ussishkin Street in central Jerusalem, noticed the missing ballots and asked the Elections Committee to shut down the center, pending an investigation and the delivery of more ballots.
Elections in Israel are conducted by voters selecting a ballot representing the desired candidate or political party and placing it in an envelope, which is in turn placed in a ballot box. Without the proper ballots, voting is impossible.
Voter turnout at 16 percent, slightly down
By 2 p.m., voter turnout was 16.3%, 1.7 points lower than the same time in the last local elections in 2008.
The highest turnout is in the Arab town of Abu Ghosh, at 52%. Tel Aviv’s turnout reached 14% by 2 p.m., and Jerusalem was a mere 10%.
There have been 500 complaints to police over the elections, eight people were taken for investigation over irregularities and three were arrested by Tuesday at 4 p.m. for violence or for attempting to vote with false identity documents.
In Arara, police stopped a stone-throwing incident connected with a brawl that erupted at a ballot station, and arrested one person.
In Upper Nazareth, a ‘matter of life and death’
Upper Nazareth ex-mayor Shimon Gapso adds some gravity (and maybe a bit of hyperbole) to the elections, saying the vote for him is “a matter of life and death.”
Gapso, recently removed from office recently for bribery, has run a campaign vowing to protect the Jewish character of the city, which some have said has raised tensions in the development town, which sits next to Nazareth, an Arab town popular with Christians.
“I will live, I will prove my innocence and win this round of elections,” he tells Maariv. “I know the head of a local council who had a brain hemorrhage and afterward they cleared him. I intend to stay healthy and prove to everyone that I am not guilty.”
Gapso, who is expected to cruise to another term, recently told The Washington Post that he did not want non-Jewish symbols in his city.
“I would rather cut off my right arm than build an Arab school,” he told the paper.
“No, no, no. No mosques, ever,” he added. “And no Christmas trees.”
In Tel Aviv, Lapid votes for next mayor and next next mayor
Yesh Atid founder and Finance Minister Yair Lapid casts his vote in Tel Aviv, writing on Facebook that he voted for incumbent Ron Huldai for mayor, and for his party’s own Dan Lahat for city council.
While he supports Huldai now, Lapid cracked wise that he was supporting Lahat to be the next next mayor.
Lion’s adventures in the Jerusalem jungle
Reporter Raphael Ahren spent the morning with Jerusalem mayoral hopeful Moshe Lion, and writes that the newcomer seemed less than welcome among voters in his new stomping grounds.
“I lived here for 40 years, he’s been here for all of three months. He simply doesn’t know his way around here,” voter Alex Ragen tells Ahren. “He’s a sleazy politician, and he has the backing of Shas, which is the kiss of death for any politician.”
Two arrests at Sakhnin voting station
A brawl has broken out at a polling station in the Arab town of Sakhnin in the lower Galilee, leading to two arrests, Ynet news reports.
Secular voters key to Barkat win
Voting numbers have been slightly below those seen in 2008, which was low to begin with, but there is the fact that most voting Israelis have been at work until now, meaning the number may jump in the next few hours.
In Jerusalem, which had only seen some 10 percent of eligible voters cast ballots as of 2 p.m., Mayor Nir Barkat, expected to handily win, pleaded with supporters not to be complacent and to flood the polling booths.
“It’s a tough battle and far from a sure thing,” Barkat told reporters while traveling through the capital. “Everyone of us needs to get out to vote to ensure the future of Jerusalem.”
His opponent, Moshe Lion, has the backing of many of the city’s ultra-Orthodox, so getting modern Orthodox and secular working Israelis to the poll will be vital for Barkat in the last five hours.
22.4 percent voted as of 4 p.m.
Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar says 22.4 percent of eligible Israelis have voted as of 4 p.m. and calls on Israelis to get out to the polls.
“It’s an investment by citizens of a few minutes, with importance for several years,” he says.
Sa’ar, speaking from the election situation room, adds that the last hours are when most people vote and says he hopes to see an increase in the number of voters.
Another update is expected at 6 p.m.
Sa’ar thanks Education Ministry for succesful day
Sa’ar, the interior minister, says voting day has run smoothly and thanks the Education Ministry for laying the groundwork in schools to allow for a successful election.
Sa’ar does not mention that the education minister in the last government was one Gideon Sa’ar.
Low turnout numbers in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv
As of 4 p.m. 18 percent of eligible voters in Jerusalem had voted and 15% in Tel Aviv, portending an extremely low turnout in the country’s two largest cities.
Some of the highest turnouts are in Israel’s Arab cities. Sakhnin has seen 55% of voters come out, with 52% in Rahat and 67% in Ein Mahal.
Shooting reported at polling station
A shooting is being reported by Channel 2 at a polling station in the Arab town of Jadeidi-Makr. The town is located near Acre.
Four people are reported lightly injured.
Local elections get international attention
Israel’s local elections are getting some international attention, specifically in places where candidates are breaking new ground or a larger societal shift is being detected.
NPR reporter Emily Harris camped out in the ultra-Orthodox city of Elad, where a group of mothers are running for town council and hoping to change the way things are run.
“Because there are just men now, a lot of issues get lost,” says Michal Chernovitsy, who leads the Forever God faction.
Getting a seat, though, will be an uphill battle in the town, where conservative mores still rule, the outlet reports.
“I’ve never heard of women running for council,” a female voter says. “It’s a new thing. I hope it will be accepted, but I’m not so sure. Here women who express themselves aren’t seen as a good thing.”
Meanwhile, Jodi Rudorin of The New York Times weighs in on Arab Jerusalemites’ decision to boycott elections.
The practice, she says, deprives a chunk of Jerusalem’s population from being able to influence, and some Palestinians agree.
“The whole thing is not really rational,” Sari Nusseibeh, president of al-Quds University, tells the paper. “It’s not by reason that people are guided; it’s by sentiments and feelings and fears and histories.”
Shooting unrelated to vote
Police say the shooting in Jadeidi-Makr, while taking place near a polling station, was not related to elections, Channel 2 reports.
Barkat camp spooked by low turnout
Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat, once thought a shoo-in to cruise to his second term, is telling supporters he is worried over the low turnout and urging voters to the poll, Army Radio reports.
His opponent, Moshe Lion, is backed by the ultra-Orthodox Shas, which is usually able to muster large numbers of voters, though several preelection polls showed Lion losing by at least 20 percentage points.
A group of Barkat canvassers, who visited The Times of Israel this afternoon, said they had been told by the Barkat camp that he needs 56% turnout to win.
As of 4 p.m., turnout in the capital stood at only 18 percent, though many voters who worked Tuesday have not yet had the chance to cast a ballot.
Election officials say they expect turnout numbers to jump in the last few hours.
Arrests in Beit Shemesh, where religion tensions flare
A police raid in Beit Shemesh turned up 200 fake Israeli ID cards stashed in two separate apartments. Eight people were arrested and police are checking to see whether the IDs were used for voting fraud.
Beit Shemesh, which has been the site of sectarian friction between Ultra-Orthodox and others, is in the midst of a hotly contested election that has seen those tensions flare.
Reporter Mitch Ginsburg, spending the early part of today in the city, found that voters were concerned both with how the candidates — incumbent Moshe Abutbul and challenger Eli Cohen — would run the city, and who they had been told to vote for by powerful rabbis.
““The rebbe said to vote for [Abutbul],” a Gur hasid says. “That’s it. I don’t look to the right and I don’t look to the left. There are no issues that are important to me. What’s important to me is what he said.”
However, most English speakers want “a normal life, in a normal, clean city. No one here is looking for a religious war,” says Cohen.
Jerusalem turnout reportedly up to 25 percent
Walla News reports that the turnout in Jerusalem has jumped to 25 percent as of 7:30 p.m., up from 18% at 4 p.m., but the news outlet does not provide a source. Official numbers are expected to be published soon.
Nationwide turnout at 32 percent
Turnout has risen nationwide to 32.7 percent as of 7 p.m., up from 22.4 percent three hours earlier, according to numbers being cited in Israeli media.
Official numbers have yet to be posted on the Interior Ministry’s elections website, however. Polls will remain open for two more hours, after which initial exit polls will be released.
Officials numbers will not come out for several more hours afterward.
Quarter of Jerusalem voters have cast ballots
Israeli media are now reporting 25 percent turnout for Jerusalem at 7 p.m., across the board. Supports of Nir Barkat believe turnout must rise to 56 percent if the incumbent is to remain mayor.
Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, remarking on the turnout, expressed disappointment with the country’s most populous city.
“We are seeing that, despite the fact that the municipality is larger, the turnout is smaller,” he said. “Arabs in the east of the city are almost not participating at all.”
In Tel Aviv election, cafes win out over polling booths
In Tel Aviv, considered the beating economic and cultural heart of the country, only 21 percent have voted. Still, the number is an improvement over the 14% turnout three hours ago.
The city’s main race is the mayoral contest between Ron Huldai, in office since 1998, and Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz.
Reporter Debra Kamin writes that in “the bubble,” iconic coffee shops were packed in the morning but voters in the polling centers were thin on the ground.
“People are working right now,” a teacher said with a shrug. “In the evening, there will be more.”
English speakers in the city, though, were somewhat engaged.
Guy Seemann, the founder and director of the grassroots movement Kol Oleh — which seeks to educate immigrants to Tel Aviv about party platforms and get them involved at the municipal level — started off the morning with an email blast to several hundred Anglo olim in the city, listing the polling times and a link to the Kol Oleh site, where voters could find English-language information on each party’s platform, directions on how the voting process works, and an explanation of how to find your particular polling site.
“I’ve received more than 150 personal emails and messages this morning,” Seemann said earlier. “They started at about 7:30 in the morning.”
Rihanna for Hod Hasharon council
Tuesday isn’t only Election Day, but also Rihanna Day. The Barbadian pop star is playing a concert in Tel Aviv Tuesday night in front of some 50,000 fans.
Those still looking to get tickets online Tuesday were given a phone number, but instead of connecting them to a ticket office, it connected them to the personal phone of Hod Hasharon city council candidate Naveh Gur, Ynet news reports.
People in Gur’s camp told Ynet that, instead of tickets, callers were invited by Gur, himself, to a victory party.
Apathy in large Israeli cities; engagement in Arab towns
Despite news reports, an official tally by the Interior Ministry counts 23 percent turnout in Jerusalem as of 7 p.m., and not 25%.
In 2008, 43% of eligible voters in Jerusalem voted, with enough voting for Barkat to propel him to victory over ultra-Orthodox candidate Meir Porush.
Only a few major cities have as low a turnout as Jerusalem as of 7 p.m., such as Holon, Bat Yam and Rishon Letzion, with 19% each; Netanya and Tel Aviv, tallying 21%; and Beersheba, Ramat Gan and Rehovot, also at 23%.
Arab cities, on the other hand, are seeing very high turnout, led by Kafr Kara, with 94%; Sakhnin, with 78%; Hurfeish, with 77%; and a number of cities in the mid-to-low 70% range.
MK calls to slap nonvoters with fine
While many think voters stay away from polls out of disdain for corruption in city hall — three mayors were recently removed from office over indictments — MK Meir Sheetrit (Hatnua) said in the Knesset today that low turnout numbers are the result of a lack of understanding of local elections and that ballot dodgers should be fined.
“We need to fine citizens who don’t vote,” he said, adding that he had proposed a law to try to fix the system. “I suggested that whoever doesn’t vote won’t get a day off. It seems that it’s harder to carry out and easier to fine citizens who don’t vote.”
Automated spin: ‘Barkat will run buses on Shabbat’
As the final minutes of Election Day wind down, some candidates may be getting desperate. A Jerusalemite reports on Facebook that she received an automated call from a voice claiming to be Yair Lapid urging her to vote for Nir Barkat, who will “develop Jerusalem like Paris and London, including stores, cinemas, performances and public transportation on Shabbat.”
The call, she surmises, was meant to scare her into doing just the opposite.
Turnout number in Jerusalem jumps to 32%
Israeli media now report new voter turnout numbers, showing an optimistic jump in some places. As of 8:30 p.m., 32 percent of voters in Jerusalem had cast ballots, up from 23 percent just an hour-and-a-half earlier. Jerusalem turnout is historically low because Arab residents of the city, about a third of its population, overwhelmingly boycott the vote. In the Jerusalem village of Beit Safafa, where The Times of Israel’s Elhanan Miller spent the morning, only a solitary voter had cast a ballot by mid-afternoon.
Nationally, the number has reached 42.6 percent.
In Tel Aviv, which has seen some of the lowest numbers, turnout is only at 22 percent.
In Jerusalem, spin machine at full throttle
Voters in Jerusalem report getting a stream of text messages in the final minutes of voting day, some of them apparently misleading.
One text sent around at 8.15 p.m. urged Jerusalemites to go out and vote because “the Haredim are voting en masse.” It warned that “this is the last chance to stop the kombina” — a reference to the Lion candidacy.
Less than an hour later, text messages bizarrely signed by “the Barak (sic) campaign,” from a different phone number, purported to reassure voters that “we have won the elections. We’ll meet for another five years of action and Jerusalem will succeed.”
Ten minutes later, another text message warned, “Don’t be fooled by the spin. The battle is very tight. Every vote counts. Run and vote for Barkat now, and save Jerusalem. The polls close at 10.”
Polls now closed
Polls have now closed. Stay tuned for results and reactions.
Yahav retakes Haifa
In Haifa, Ynet news reports that incumbent Yona Yahav has won reelection. The city saw over 40 percent turnout.
Tel Aviv’s Huldai worried over low turnout
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai is reportedly worried that the low turnout in his city — some 21%, as of 7 p.m. — could hurt his chances of reelection against Nitzan Horowitz.
Huldai has held the city since 1998.
Barkat camp distressed over possible upset
Israel Radio, reporting from the Nir Barkat camp, says that supporters are concerned over the low numbers in Jerusalem’s secular neighborhoods, where Barkat’s base is, as compared to ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, which may have seen a higher turnout.
Two camps awaiting a winner
Results are not yet in — many ballots are still being brought to counting stations — but the camps of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Moshe Lion are a study in contrast.
Barkat’s headquarters are nearly empty, with only a few posters hanging up, some lonely orange and blue balloons, and the mayor nowhere to be seen.
Lion, meanwhile is setting up camp at the Ramada Hotel in the capital, where there is a definite party atmosphere.
Preelection polls gave Lion, the Shas and Yisrael Beytenu candidate, almost no chance of unseating Barkat, but given the low turnout numbers, Lion’s people apparently are feeling optimistic.
Corruption charges dog mayors seeking reelection
While some see the low turnout as a product of voter apathy, many others say it actually represents a vote of no confidence in local government, where there is often corruption.
Three mayors running for re-election in particular have come under a harsh spotlight after being accused of crimes. Shlomo Lahiani in Bat Yam, Shimon Gapso in Upper Nazareth and Ramat Hasharon’s Yitzhak Rochberger were all recently removed from office after being charged with a number of fraud-related crimes.
A recent High Court ruling found that though the mayors were removed from office, they could still run for office, and retake their seat if they are cleared of charges.
Initial reports show Rochberger taking victory, and the other two are also expected to be returned to office by voters.
Sa’ar estimates turnout will reach 50 percent
Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, running the show from an elections situation room in Ramat Gan, estimates that when all is said and done, voter turnout will stand at around 50 percent, the Walla news outlet reports.
In 2008, 51.8 percent of eligible voters turned out at the polls, a number that was also considered low at the time.
Sa’ar adds that ballot counters will tally council votes first before moving onto mayors, and smaller cities will have results before larger ones.
He also tells Walla that his ministry is looking into the idea of computerizing elections, and leaving the system of ballot slips tucked into envelopes used until now.
And lastly, he adds that he thinks Ron Huldai will win the Tel Aviv election for mayor.
Tel Aviv squeaks above 30 percent turnout
Tel Aviv is reporting a final turnout of 31.3 percent, among the lowest in the country, Gideon Sa’ar tells Israel Radio.
There is also a rumor circulating that Jerusalem saw a 38% turnout. Israeli analysts say a 40% turnout is likely the magic number for Nir Barkat, so if the 38% number turns out to be correct, the final results may be tighter than expected.
Confusion may delay official results
Walla News reports some confusion between the Interior Ministry mothership and the polling stations in transferring ballots, leading to a lack of official data.
The outlet estimates that some races may take all night to count.
In Jerusalem, Channel 2 estimates that the race may be tight enough to call in the soldiers’ absentee ballots, which will not happen until Wednesday.
Jerusalem turnout at nearly 36 percent
Israeli news now reports the final official turnout in Jerusalem is 35.9 percent, a low tally that could bode well for Moshe Lion.
Analysts had said Barkat would need 40 percent turnout to secure a second term.
Watching votes be counted live
Those who like watching paint dry and grass grow will love watching Jerusalem count votes in real time, on this website.
In Modi’in, ballot watchers can head here for up-to-the-minute results.
Tallies are beginning to trickle in, though official information is difficult to find.
A number of Israeli outlets report that in Nazareth, firebrand MK Hanin Zoabi will lose in her attempt to helm the city.
Barkat leads Lion as vote count begins
With nearly 5 percent of votes counted in Jerusalem, Mayor Nir Barkat has a comfortable lead of 59% over Moshe Lion’s 37%. However, the sectarian nature of the Holy City means that results in these early stages can swing wildly depending on which neighborhood’s ballots are being counted.
In Modi’in, mayor Haim Bibas is crushing his opponent Sharon Maoz with 90% of the vote, as he was expected to do.
in Bat Yam, Shlomo Lahiani, a popular mayor facing down corruption charges, is poised to retake the city, with 59% of votes after some 10 percent have been counted.
Ramat Gan, with 15 percent counted, shows Yisrael Zinger with a razor thin lead of a ferw hundred votes over former Knesset member Carmel Shama-Hacohen.
Huldai leads Horowitz in Tel Aviv
In Tel Aviv, with about a quarter of votes counted, mayor Ron Huldai has a comfortable lead over MK Nitzan Horowitz. While the city is not nearly as divided as Jerusalem, different neighborhoods may be more likely to vote as blocs.
The city saw a low turnout of 31 percent casting ballots, which some believe may serve to help the challenger.
Sderot may see change of the guard
While most incumbents appear to be sitting pretty, Sderot may be seeing a changing of the guard.
Mayor David Buskila is reportedly trailing challenger Alon Davidi as the votes are counted.
Buskila recently made Ahlama Peretz, the wife on Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz, his Number 2, but the move appears to have had little effect.
In Beit Shemesh, sitting mayor Moshe Abutbul is leading challenger Eli Cohen with 20 percent of the vote counted.
In Lod, Likud candidate Yair Revivo is leading the way.
Barkat halfway to victory, but tally can still swing
In Jerusalem, perhaps the most followed race nationally, incumbent Nir Barkat holds a lead of 54 percent to Moshe Lion’s 42%, with nearly half of the city’s ballot boxes counted.
While the lead seems roomy, it represents a gap of just some 6,000 votes, and depending on what polling stations have been counted, can still swing the other way.
Many smaller cities are finishing up counting votes, with winners celebrating victory after several months of campaigning.
Ashkelon on way to unseating mayor; Barkat widens lead
Sderot isn’t the only southern city which may be headed for some radical reconstruction of its leadership. In Ashkelon, challenger Itamar Shimoni leads incumbent mayor Benny Vaknin 52 percent to 44%, with 40 percent reporting.
Meanwhile in Jerusalem, with almost 60 percent of ballot boxes counted, Nir Barkat has stretched his lead to 55% over Moshe Lion’s 41%. The gap represents about a 13,000 vote lead for Barkat, though depending on which polling stations have been counted, the count can still swing wildly.
In Tel Aviv Ron Huldai leads Nitzan Horowitz 51.5% to 37%, with over a third of votes counted.
In Rishon Letzion Dov Tzur is cruising to an easy victory with 70% of votes out of over a third counted.
Vote could still shift in Lion’s favor
A quick check of Jerusalem’s online vote tally count shows that a number of ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, where Moshe Lion’s power base is, have yet to be counted.
Once they are, the numbers could swing to make the race much closer, possibly even bringing Lion, backed by the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, into contention.
Among the neighborhoods yet to be counted are Mea Shearim and Geula, considered the heart of Haredi Jerusalem.
Despite that, Lion still has an uphill battle to overtake Barkat, who currently leads him by 15,000 votes, or 15 percentage points, with over 60 percent of ballot boxes counted.
Barkat appears to be heading for victory
Channel 2 says it calls Jerusalem for mayor Nir Barkat, who currently leads Moshe Lion 54% to 42% with over 70% of ballot boxes counted. Though things may still change, many Lion supporters appear to be accepting defeat, with a large number leaving the Jerusalem party hall he rented out.
In Ra’anana, former mayor-cum-Jewish Agency head-cum-Kadima MK Zeev Bielski is cruising to a victory against current mayor Nahum Hofree. “It’s sorted,” he tells Channel 2.
Herzliya headed to runoff
The lucky citizens of Herzliya look set to get to exercise their democratic right again, after no mayoral candidate managed to clear 25 percent, forcing a runoff.
Zvika Hadar garnered 24.9 percent, Yonatan Yasour got 23.95% and Moshe Padlon 22.16%.
In Holon, Moti Sasson is poised to win a fifth term as mayor, with almost two-thirds of the vote counted.
“I love this town. It’s my home, my family,” he tells Channel 2. “For me, public service here is a mission.”
Holon saw one of the lowest turnouts in the country.
Shas and Lion’s bad night
Moshe Lion may not only lose Jerusalem, but his Likud-Beytenu party might not get a seat on the city council. With over 70 percent of ballot boxes counted, the party has 3.47 percent in the council vote, putting it right at the edge.
Israel National News reports Lion visited the Jerusalem hotel where his victory party was to take place, and entered a closed room.
Lion’s other party, Shas, is not having the best night either. Aside from possibly losing Jerusalem, it also may not win the ultra-Orthodox city of Elad, where Lithuanian candidate Israel Porush holds a slight lead over Shas’s Tzuriel Krispel.
In Beit Shemesh, though, the party’s Moshe Abutbul looks set to win over Eli Cohen.
Lion concedes defeat in Jerusalem race
Moshe Lion mounts a stage to speak to his supporters and concedes defeat in the Jerusalem mayoral race.
“The campaign was truly intended to do good for the people of Jerusalem. My intentions were genuinely good and right,” he says. “I hope the mayor in the next term really thinks more about the citizens of Jerusalem.”
“You, the activists, were terrific,” he adds, to applause and singing.
He then thanks Avigdor Liberman, ” who made a genuine and real effort to do good for the people of Jerusalem.”
Lion: I didn’t come here for the job
Lion, who moved from Givatayim to Jerusalem several months before the election, says he did not come for the job but truly loves the city and wishes it luck.
Liberman: ‘Sometimes you lose’
Avigdor Liberman, speaking to Lion supporters, says they “fought an honorable fight.”
“It’s the obligation of every national party to offer an alternative. Sometimes you lose. I’m sure Moshe will continue to contribute to Jerusalem,” he says. He also calls the 40%-plus Lion polled “a remarkable achievement.”
Huldai celebrates Tel Aviv mayoral win
In Tel Aviv, mayor Ron Huldai is celebrating with confetti, while challenger Nitzan Horovitz is hugging supporters.
Huldai, in good spirits, thanks his supporters and vows to continue in the way he has managed the city for the last 15 years.
He adds that Tel Aviv will continue to be a “free city.”
Waiting for Barkat
With only a few ballot boxes left to count in Jerusalem, Nir Barkat leads Moshe Lion 51% to 45%, representing a difference of some 12,000 votes.
Barkat’s supporters are crowded into a Jerusalem club at 3 a.m., listening to techno music and waiting for the mayor to show up for a victory speech.
Barkat, in victory speech, promises ‘not to leave any sector behind’
Jerusalem’s Mayor Nir Barkat finally arrives at his campaign victory party in a club on the Hebron Road, and is mobbed by supporters.
He finally makes it to the stage and takes the microphone. He praises the “team” that supported him, “and of course all the voters” — those who voted for him, his rivals, and “those who didn’t vote at all.” And he thanks his family.
It was a very tough campaign, he says, “but tonight the residents of Jerusalem gave us a mandate to lead the city with the same vision, the same path, for another five years.”
Speaking of building another wide city coalition, he says he “won’t leave any sector, any tribe behind.”
He stresses: “There’s a lot more work to do. We heard the criticism… It all went into one ear, and didn’t go out the other.”
He urges other party leaders, “we have to work together.” This is not a night for settling accounts, he says, “it is a night for hugs… I want to hug all the residents of Jerusalem. The elections are over. And now we need all the forces — including those who worked against us in this campaign… We need everyone’s help.”
“Let’s keep on doing what we started,” he says. “Tonight, friends, Jerusalem was victorious.”
A night for incumbents and insomniacs
With Barkat having delivered his victory speech, Ron Huldai returned in Tel Aviv and Yona Yahav successful in Haifa, it has ultimately been an election for incumbents in Israel’s three largest cities. It’s also been a night for insomniacs, with Jerusalem’s reelected mayor waiting till after 3.30 to celebrate his success.
The Times of Israel’s liveblogging team thanks you for staying with us through the day and into the small hours. We’re off to catch a few hours sleep.