Netanyahu pick for Jerusalem mayor ousted in first round

Zeev Elkin (L) sits alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) and Cabinet Secretary Tzachi Braverman at a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on May 13, 2018 (AFP pic)

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pick for Jerusalem mayor has failed to make it past the first round of polling, local election results showed Wednesday.

None of the six candidates for mayor, all Jewish, won the 40% of votes required to be elected in the first round held on Tuesday.

A runoff between the top two will be held on November 13.

Minister for Jerusalem Affairs Zeev Elkin, a member of Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party and who received the premier’s endorsement, won only 20% of the vote.

Moshe Leon, another right-winger, garnered the most votes with 33%, according to official figures.

Leon has the backing of hawkish Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman and of ultra-Orthodox Jewish factions.

The ultra-Orthodox, who make up some 10% of Israel’s population, wield particular influence in Jerusalem, and the city has previously had an ultra-Orthodox mayor.

In comparatively liberal Tel Aviv, Labour mayor Ron Huldai was elected to a fifth five-year term.

In Haifa, also a traditional Labour stronghold, the party’s Einat Kalisch Rotem became the northern port city’s first woman mayor and first female to head any of Israel’s three largest cities.

Israel’s elections for mayors and councils, held every five years, are largely local affairs but have served as a springboard for politicians with national ambitions.

For the first time in local elections, voting day was declared a national holiday in an effort to boost attendance.

Average turnout nationwide, posted after polls closed on Tuesday night was 54%, compared to just shy of 51% in 2013.

The interior ministry said final figures would not be released Wednesday as planned due to a technical glitch in its data systems.

It did not say when the full data would be available.

Figures for historic elections in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights went online overnight, before the crash.

Golan turnout weak

Minority Druze on the strategic plateau cast ballots for the first time since Israel captured it from Syria in 1967, but the vote sparked protests.

The vote was controversial since many Druze, who feel connected to Syria, fear it helps Israel legitimise its control over the occupied plateau.

Several hundred protesters in the village of Majdal Shams, some carrying Syrian flags, temporarily blocked a polling centre as police sought to maintain calm, an AFP correspondent reported.

There had been calls to boycott the election, and a string of candidates pulled out.

The Majdal Shams vote finally went ahead and Dulan Abu Salah was elected mayor of the town of 10,000 — winning 260 out of just 350 ballots cast.

In the Golan village of Ein Qiniye, which has a population of about 2,000, Wahil Mughrabi was elected mayor with 21 votes against his rival’s two.

In two other villages, elections were called off as there were no candidates.

In Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, which Israel also occupied in 1967, Palestinians for the first time fielded a list of candidates for the city council but it failed to win any seats.

Some 300,000 Palestinians live in east Jerusalem, but apart from the very few who have acquired Israeli citizenship, they are not allowed to vote in general elections.

They can, however, take part in local polling, but the vast majority stay away, refusing to recognise Israeli control over the sector of the city they claim as the capital of their future state.

Israel sees the entire city as its capital, a claim buoyed by US President Donald Trump’s controversial decision in December to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.