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Israel: Jerusalem mayor run-off sees victory for Leon

Jerusalem's municipal elections religious candidate Moshe Leon casts his vote for the municipality elections at a polling station on 22 October, 2013 in Jerusalem, Israel [Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images]

Ultra-Orthodox candidate Moshe Leon has declared victory in a run-off for the position of Jerusalem Mayor, beating his secular opponent.

Moshe Leon, a conservative-religious candidate favoured by recently-resigned defence minister Avigdor Lieberman, secured 51.5 per cent of the vote to declare victory against his secular opponent Ofer Berkovitch. Celebrating the victory, Leon said that “tonight Jerusalem chose consolidation, unity, togetherness, and goodness. I plan, with the help of God, to be a mayor for all the residents of Jerusalem,” Haaretz reported.

An early vote count late last night seemed to indicate that Berkovitch held a 15 per cent lead over Leon, but by the final count, Leon had overtaken his rival to secure the candidacy. Yet Berkovitch refused to concede defeat, claiming that there had been “many irregularities” in the election and vowing that his legal team would review the results. “There is a not-inconsiderable number of booths that we will thoroughly examine,” he explained, adding “there is a reason we warned about a power working against us aggressively, violently and on the borderline of legality. We are not giving up on the chance of winning in this round”.

READ: Jerusalem’s mayor raids Shuafat refugee camp

It is thought that Jerusalem’s significant Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) population swung the vote in Leon’s favour. The Agudat Yisrael party – which largely represents the Ashkenazi (European) ultra-Orthodox community – decided not to endorse either candidate, leaving some 30,000 voters to cast their decision freely. This, combined with the fact that Leon enjoyed the backing of Shas and Degel HaTorah, two other political parties representing ultra-Orthodox factions, is believed to have clinched Leon’s victory over Berkovitch, who has traditionally opposed preferential policies for the city’s Haredim.

Yesterday’s head to head comes after an earlier round of voting failed to yield an outright victory. In this initial round, Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin was knocked out of the running, despite previously being slated as the front-runner. Elkin, the ruling Likud party’s candidate who had received an endorsement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem’s current mayor Nir Barkat, came third in October’s election.

However, the turn-out rate for yesterday’s re-run was significantly lower than the October round, with only 31.5 per cent of Jerusalem’s population turning out to vote. As is common in Jerusalem elections, the city’s Palestinian population largely boycotted the vote, deeming the process tantamount to normalisation of Israel’s illegal occupation of the city.

READ: Israeli High Court discusses evictions of Palestinians in Jerusalem

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