Israelis head to the polls, and the beach, as local elections kick off
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Israelis head to the polls, and the beach, as local elections kick off

Jerusalem contest appears wide open; Tel Aviv deputy mayor challenges city’s longtime leader; and Haifa could elect its first-ever female mayor

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

  • A man stands near posters of Jerusalem mayoral candidate Yossi Deitch outside the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on October 29, 2018, (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    A man stands near posters of Jerusalem mayoral candidate Yossi Deitch outside the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on October 29, 2018, (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • A picture taken on October 28, 2018, shows a campaign poster of municipal candidate Moshe Lion on a bus ahead of the upcoming Jerusalem municipal elections, in Jerusalem. (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)
    A picture taken on October 28, 2018, shows a campaign poster of municipal candidate Moshe Lion on a bus ahead of the upcoming Jerusalem municipal elections, in Jerusalem. (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)
  • A Jewish man walks in a street littered with election campaign posters for the upcoming Jerusalem municipal elections, in Jerusalem on October 28, 2018. (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)
    A Jewish man walks in a street littered with election campaign posters for the upcoming Jerusalem municipal elections, in Jerusalem on October 28, 2018. (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)
  • Tel Aviv mayor candidate Asaf Zamir seen depicted on campaign posters for the upcoming municipality elections, in Tel Aviv, on October 28, 2018. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
    Tel Aviv mayor candidate Asaf Zamir seen depicted on campaign posters for the upcoming municipality elections, in Tel Aviv, on October 28, 2018. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
  • Campaign posters showing current mayor of Tel Aviv Ron Huldai, on the streets of Tel Aviv, prior to the upcoming municipality elections, on October 28, 2018. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
    Campaign posters showing current mayor of Tel Aviv Ron Huldai, on the streets of Tel Aviv, prior to the upcoming municipality elections, on October 28, 2018. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
  • View of a sign promoting Zeev Elkin, mayoral candidate for the Jerusalem municipal elections, in central Jerusalem, on October 28, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    View of a sign promoting Zeev Elkin, mayoral candidate for the Jerusalem municipal elections, in central Jerusalem, on October 28, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israelis are heading to the polls to elect their local and regional politicians into office on Tuesday, with a newly instituted vacation day seeking to challenge widespread voter apathy and raise the country’s traditionally low turnout rates.

Ballot stations nationwide are set to open at 7 a.m. and close by 10 p.m.  The preliminary results are expected to trickle in overnight Tuesday-Wednesday, with a final count anticipated by Wednesday. Israelis can find their poll location on this website (Hebrew).

Some 6.6 million Israeli citizens and residents over the age of 17 are eligible to cast their votes in the local elections, electing officials to some 251 city, town, and regional councils nationwide, according to Interior Ministry figures.

Voters are casting two ballots: one for mayor (a five-year term), and another for the party list they wish to represent them on their hometown council. If no single mayoral candidate receives over 40 percent of the vote on Tuesday, a runoff election — pitting the two contenders who garnered the largest shares against each other — will be scheduled for November 13.

In Israel’s largest cities, veteran mayors in Tel Aviv and Haifa were battling increasingly formidable challengers, while in Jerusalem, where the incumbent is not running, the race appeared to be wide open.

Workers count IDF soldiers votes for the nationwide local elections in the Election Committee’s Control Room in Kfar Maccabiah, Ramat Gan on October 23, 2013.(Yossi Zeliger/FLASH90)

For the first time, under a new Knesset law, Israelis have been given the day off to vote for their local officials, a change that is geared to jolt voters out of their traditional indifference toward municipal polls. The voting turnout rates stood at a national average of 51.9% in the previous 2013 elections, and just 28.7% in Tel Aviv-Jaffa; 36.1% in Jerusalem, where Arab residents of East Jerusalem boycott the vote; and 32.7% in Haifa. Broken down by demographic, the exceptions to the rule were Arab Israelis and the ultra-Orthodox, who vote at consistently high rates (in some places, as high as 90 percent).

Museums, national parks, and other attractions were expected to attract hundreds of thousands of vacationing Israelis on Tuesday, while daytime election-themed dance and drinking parties were scheduled across the major cities.

According to a poll by the Israel Democracy Institute earlier this month, 83% of Jewish Israelis and 71% of the Arab public plan on voting (are either sure or think they will).

City and regional council elections are being held, for the first time in Israel’s history, on the same day. Also marking a historic first, four Druze councils will be holding elections in the Golan Heights for the first time since Israel won control of the area in 1967.

Jerusalem is holding the most nail-biting contest in the country, with no clear winner emerging in the run-up to the race.

The front-runners in the mayoral race are Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin, and Jerusalem council members Moshe Lion and Ofer Berkovitch. (Read The Times of Israel’s interviews with Elkin, Berkovitch, and Lion.)

Jerusalem mayoral candidates Ofer Berkovich (2L), Zeev Elkin (R), Moshe Lion (2R) and Yossi Deitch (L) pose for a picture during a debate between candidates to the upcoming Jerusalem Municipality election in Jerusalem on October 21, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ultra-Orthodox candidate Yossi Deitch, a Jerusalem deputy mayor, has also been campaigning furiously for the post and has cast himself as a dark horse.

While ultra-Orthodox religious leaders of the Degel HaTorah and Shas factions have endorsed Lion for the job, it remains unclear whether Haredi constituents (one-third of the capital’s Jewish population) will toe the party line or break ranks to support Deitch.

Meanwhile, in East Jerusalem, most of the city’s 300,000 Arab residents were expected to uphold a longstanding boycott of the municipal elections.

In Tel Aviv, a long-shot candidate, Deputy Mayor Asaf Zamir, is challenging four-term mayor of the coastal city Ron Huldai, with recent polls pointing to Zamir closing the gap in support. (Read The Times of Israel’s interview with Zamir here). Also in the running is comedian Asaf Harel, a comedian-turned-entrepreneur-turned politician, followed by Natan Elnatan, a Haredi deputy mayor from the Shas party.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai in Tel Aviv, October 31, 2017 (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

The northern city of Haifa, meanwhile, was girding for a possible upset as candidate Einat Kalisch Rotem clinched the support of rival David Etzioni earlier this week in her bid against incumbent Yona Yahav.

Should Kalisch Rotem cruise to victory over Yahav, who has been in office since 2003, she will earn the distinction of being the city’s first female mayor.

Kalisch Rotem was disqualified, and then reinstated, by courts earlier this month on a technicality.

Einat Kalisch Rotem arrives for a court hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on October 22, 2018, about her disqualification from running for mayor in Haifa in the upcoming elections. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In the southern coastal city of Ashkelon, incumbent Itamar Shimoni — who is on trial for bribery — is fighting for reelection against four other candidates.

In Netanya, the candidacy of Mayor Miriam Feirberg-Ikar, who is being investigated by police, is also testing whether a criminal probe will turn residents against her and prevent her from clinching a fifth term.  (Read more about the indicted and investigated mayors and ex-mayors seeking reelection here).

In the 2018 race, male candidates continue to outnumber women 10 to 1 in seeking leadership positions: Some 665 men are vying to be mayor, compared to some 58 women. Similarly, 119 men and 14 women are running to be heads of regional councils. But overall, 750 more female candidates have thrown their hats into the ring for other council seats than in 2013, the Interior Ministry said.

According to the Interior Ministry, in 18 local councils and 11 regional councils, the candidate for leader is running unopposed.

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