Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s Likud Party gained ground on the once dominant Labor Party in nationwide municipal elections Tuesday, further highlighting a swing by Israel to the political right.
Jewish religious parties also made strong showings and helped deny Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek a majority on the City Council for the first time in his 24 years in office. An Arab boycott of the vote also crippled Kollek’s “One Jerusalem” council ticket.
But Kollek handily won his sixth straight term as mayor, Israel government television reported.
During the campaign, Shamir had urged a strong Likud showing to show support for his policy of suppressing the Arab uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and resisting pressure from abroad to talk peace with the Palestine Liberation Organization. Shamir urged voters to produce a “second political revolution” to match the 1977 parliamentary elections that produced Israel’s first Likud prime minister, Menachem Begin.
Tuesday, rightist Likud took over city halls in the cities of Ashdod, Ramat Gan, Beersheva and Petah Tikva and ran neck and neck with Labor in Haifa. All were Labor strongholds. Likud held on to power in Tel Aviv, the country’s largest city.
“Maybe this is an indication of where Israeli politics are going,” said Ronni Milo, a Likud official and environmental protection minister.
“Shamir will take this result and use it to show the world his policies are popular,” said Yehuda Litani, a political commentator for the pro-Labor Jerusalem Post.
Other observers questioned whether Tuesday’s vote, often based on such issues as sewer services and bus transport, could be viewed as a referendum on war and peace; turnout was low, partly because of summer-like weather that attracted many voters to the beach on the election day holiday.
For Labor, it was another dip in a 12-year slide from almost absolute power. Since 1977, the party has lost three of four parliamentary elections and tied one. Until Tuesday, it had at least been able to count on strong city hall showings.
Party leader Shimon Peres was calling political aides trying to find out what went wrong, Israel Radio reported. Later, he expressed disappointment. “There is always a place for soul searching. We’ll do it after we know the final results,” he said. Peres led Labor to defeat in parliamentary elections last fall; his party is now a junior partner in a coalition government headed by Shamir and Likud.
In Jerusalem, Kollek, a longtime practitioner of the art of the possible, resisted suggestions that now he would have to build a coalition in the City Council to effectively govern a city fractured on religious, ethnic and political lines.
“I do not intend to form any coalitions,” the feisty mayor said. “I have time to decide. I will continue running the city. If I don’t have a majority, people will try to make things difficult for me, but I think I can make things more difficult for them.”
Kollek, who ran as an independent, got about two-thirds of the vote. But council candidates from Kollek’s “One Jerusalem” ticket won only 11 to 13 seats on the 31-seat council, televised projections showed. “One Jerusalem” had held 17 seats in the old council.
Kollek, 77, had pleaded with the city’s 350,000 Jewish residents to give him an outright majority on the council. Advertisements for his candidacy showed him roped to a chair, and he warned that he needed a free hand to balance the interests of Arab and Jewish residents as well as religious and non-observant Jews.
Commentators said he would probably have to make an alliance with religious parties to govern. The combination could radically alter the tolerant nature of Jerusalem that Kollek has tried to foster.
Offended Some Religious Voters
Religious Jewish voters were irritated by Kollek’s secular style. The mayor encouraged entertainment that fundamentalists found offensive.
Battles between extreme Orthodox residents and secular Jerusalemites have occasionally erupted over the screening of movies and operation of restaurants on Friday, the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath.
There were long lines Tuesday at the polls in Orthodox neighborhoods in Jerusalem, with men wearing black kaftans and women covered from head to foot despite the unseasonably hot sun.
“This is a holy city, and Kollek treats it like a carnival,” said a black-hatted Hasidic resident who gave his name as Yitzhak.
Some religious voters thought that casting ballots for religious parties will increase their share of municipal services.
“Kollek favors the Arabs. He spends a lot of money dressing up their neighborhoods when we need clinics and schools,” said one resident of Mea Sharim, a large religious enclave in Jerusalem.
According to results released this morning, religious power on city councils increased not only in Jerusalem but also in Tel Aviv.
In contrast to the effervescence in the religious Jewish neighborhoods, Arab districts were shuttered and quiet. Leaders of the Palestinian uprising had called on Jerusalem Arabs to boycott the vote and ordered stores and offices closed to ensure that crowds on the street would not provide cover for anyone who might try to vote.
About 80,000 Arabs in Jerusalem were eligible to cast ballots. No more than 2,500 to 3,000 voted, government television reported.
The sidewalks of East Jerusalem, the main Arab commercial and residential district, were empty. At a polling station in Wadi Jooz, a ravine known for its numerous auto repair shops, hardly anyone seemed to be voting. By 3 p.m., only 16 of about 3,000 registered voters had cast ballots.
“This is not our government, this is not our election, this is not our problem,” said Ahmed, a young bookstore clerk in East Jerusalem.
Israeli Arab citizens in other cities voted for mayor, and there was a marked surge in support for fundamentalist Muslim parties. In the Arab town of Umm al Fahm, voters put a City Council headed by the Islamic Fundamentalist Party in power while turning the traditional Communist leadership out of City Hall.