Local election turnout falls to historical low

Local election polling station in Tel Aviv  credit: Meytal Vaizberg
Local election polling station in Tel Aviv credit: Meytal Vaizberg

Excluding army votes, the voter turnout in Israel's local elections was under 50%. Ron Huldai held Tel Aviv; Moshe Lion romped home in Jerusalem; Einat Kalisch-Rotem slumped to defeat in Haifa.

Just 49.2% of Israel’s electorate (not counting "blue envelope" votes outside of regular polling stations, such as at army units on active service) voted in the local authority elections yesterday. This is a substantial decline from the 56% turnout in the local elections in 2018, the first time polling day was made a national vacation day. This time, however, because of the number of people on reserve army duty, the blue envelopes could make a significant difference to the final voting figures, and could perhaps raise the turnout to over the 51% recorded in the local elections of 2013, which led to the introduction of a vacation day for local elections.

Yogev Sharvit, head of the economic department at urban planning consultancy Build Urban Strategy, predicted before the elections that the turnout would be low: "Not just because of the war - everyone’s depressed," he said. "Party activists have no energy, and nor do the candidates." He said the low turnout stemmed from misconceptions on the part of the public, which does not exploit its power in local elections.

Among the ten largest cities, the lowest turnout was in Jerusalem, at just 31.5%. Residents of East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed in 1967, are entitled to vote, but they traditionally boycott the elections, which always means a low percentage vote in the city. Even taking that into account, the turnout was especially low this time around. In 2018, the turnout in Jerusalem was almost 40%. Incumbent mayor Moshe Lion has won a crushing victory, with over 80% of the votes. He faces an oppositional city council, however, with haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) parties having won a majority of seats. (In local elections, there are separate votes for the local authority head and and for the council).

The largest decline in voter turnout was in Ashdod. In 2018, the local election in the city was a stormy affair, resulting in the narrow reelection of incumbent mayor Yehiel Lasri with 66% of the city’s electorate exercising it democratic right. In the current election, Lasri was again reelected, with 48.2% of the votes, but on a voter turnout of under 50%. There were also steep declines in turnout in Rishon Lezion, where incumbent mayor Raz Kinstlich easily won reelection, and in Beersheva, where incumbent mayor Reuven "Ruvik" Danilovich was the sole candidate.

In Tel Aviv, the decline in turnout was smaller. 40.5% of the electorate voted, which compares with 46.1% in 2018, when two candidates posed a serious threat to mayor Ron Huldai. Huldai's main rival in the current election, Orna Barbivai, has conceded defeat. In Holon, the turnout was actually higher than last time around, by 2.1%. After a stormy campaign, Moti Sasson, who had been mayor for thirty years, was beaten by Shai Keinan.

The biggest upset was in Haifa, where incumbent mayor Einat Kalisch-Rotem received only 4.5% of the votes, a complete collapse from her victory in 2018, when she won 57.8% of the votes. Yona Yahav, the incumbent whom she beat in 2018, won 36.3% of the votes this time, and will face the other main candidate, David Etzioni, who won 21.9%, in a second round. A candidate needs to win at least 40% of the votes cast to be declared the winner on the first round.

In Beit Shemesh, incumbent mayor Aliza Bloch will go to a second round against Shmuel Greenberg , after former mayor Moshe Abutbul was beaten into third place.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on February 28, 2024.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2024.

Local election polling station in Tel Aviv  credit: Meytal Vaizberg
Local election polling station in Tel Aviv credit: Meytal Vaizberg
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