Three days after Jerusalem mayor vote, Berkovitch calls Lion to concede

Lion was declared winner on Wednesday night after all the final 9,000 provisional ballots were counted, putting him 3,765 votes ahead

Jerusalem mayoral candidates Ofer Berkovich (L) and Moshe Lion during an October 21, 2018 debate ahead of the Jerusalem Municipality elections on October 30, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Jerusalem mayoral candidates Ofer Berkovich (L) and Moshe Lion during an October 21, 2018 debate ahead of the Jerusalem Municipality elections on October 30, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Three days after the Jerusalem mayoral election, Ofer Berkovitch called Moshe Lion to concede and set up a meeting between the two after a tightly fought race.

During the call Berkovitch congratulated Lion and told him that he wants to meet to try and bridge any gaps between them, Army Radio reported. The leader of the Hitorerut movement had been considering a legal challenge over what he said were “irregularities” in the vote. It was not immediately clear if he planned to continue with it.

Lion’s already-declared victory in the race became official Wednesday night as the final votes were counted, with him coasting past rival Berkovitch. When the count was finalized, Lion was confirmed as the winner by 3,765 votes, with 50.85% of the votes cast (112,744) to Berkovitch’s 49.15% (108,979).

Lion had been 6,500 ballots ahead of Berkovitch before the counting of the final 9,000 provisional ballots began around 8 p.m.

With some 3,000 of those 9,000 votes tallied and updated by the municipality, Lion quickly sailed beyond that mark to defeat Berkovitch with 51% of the overall vote to Berkovitch’s 48%.

Victory via the final votes was a long shot for Berkovitch, who would have needed to garner some 7,700 of the 9,000 to defeat Lion.

The provisional ballots included 3,800 submitted by Israeli soldiers, according to a ministry spokesperson. The remainder were cast in prisons, hospitals and by the disabled. Lion needed less than 15% of these ballots to be confirmed winner.

Supporters of Jerusalem mayoral candidate Ofer Berkovitch react as the preliminary results of the mayoral race are announced, on November 13, 2018. (Noam Revkin Fenton/FLASH90)

Lion did not wait for the final tally to declare victory early Wednesday morning, after the runoff election. Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who had backed Lion, also declared him the winner.

“I intend to be the mayor of all of Jerusalem’s residents, whoever they may be. Those that voted for me, and those that didn’t,” said Lion in a victory speech around 2:15 a.m. at a Jerusalem hall packed with supporters.

At 1:40 a.m., Berkovitch told his supporters that “the results don’t look good,” but did not concede. “Jerusalem is the winner,” he said. He later said his party’s legal team was evaluating various “irregularities” at the polling stations.

“We’ll work on it tonight and tomorrow morning,” he said, pointing to an unnamed “force that faced us using violent methods and some means that were borderline illegal” as the culprits.

“We won’t give up on victory in this round as well,” he said.

Jerusalem mayoral candidate Ofer Berkovitch and his wife Dina kiss while casting their ballots at a voting station on October 30, 2018, in Jerusalem. Behind him, a sign reads: ‘One must win honestly and lose with honor’ (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Lion enjoyed the backing of both Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and ultra-Orthodox faction Shas, and part of United Torah Judaism, leading to charges of backroom dealing on the national level to secure him the position. Berkovitch, meanwhile, has led the vanguard of the secularist flank of the city with his Hitorerut party.

At midnight the 35-year-old secular activist-turned city council member found himself way ahead of Lion, widening his lead by as much as 10,000 votes with 50% of the ballots counted. But Berkovitch’s advantage was gradually whittled down, with Lion gliding ahead by 6,000 votes as the tally topped the 90% mark. He then held 51% (109,400 votes) to Berkovitch’s 48% (102,900), according to initial results.

Polls closed on Tuesday night at 10 p.m with turnout rates in the capital reported at 31.5%.

The runoff between the two contenders was held after none of the five candidates in the first round — Lion, Berkovitch, Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin, Deputy Mayor Yossi Deitch and Avi Salman — successfully won 40% of the vote on October 30. The turnout in the first round stood at 39%.

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