Israel: Secular Nir Barkat wins Jerusalem mayor race
rahul | November 11, 2008 at 09:19 pmby
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Nir Barkat: "There is room in Jerusalem for everyone," he said, adding "if there's not room for everyone, then there's not room for anyone." Being mayor of Jerusalem will be hard, said Barkat, but promised to be a mayor to everyone, whether they voted for him, voted for a candidate, or didn't turn up to vote at all. In Jerusalem, 41% of eligible voters came to the polls, compared with 38% five years ago, according to the Interior Ministry.
JERUSALEM (AP) - Secular businessman Nir Barkat won an election for mayor of Jerusalem against a powerful ultra-Orthodox Jewish leader, according to partial results carried by Israeli media early Wednesday, in a race that again exposed the deep divide between religious and secular Israelis. Israel Radio and newspaper Web sites said that with a third of the vote counted, Barkat had a commanding 50-36 percent lead over ultra-Orthodox strongman Meir Porush. Claiming victory, Barkat declared the election showed «there is someone who will protect Jerusalem,» while pledging to be «the mayor of everyone. Barkat will succeed Uri Lupolianski, the first ultra-Orthodox Jew to serve as mayor of Jerusalem. Israelis went to voting stations around the country, picking mayors and city councils, but local issues and strong independent candidates overshadowed clashes between the major parties three months before national elections. In Jerusalem, the three largest parties failed to field candidates for mayor for the first time, leaving the race to representatives of two of the city's three distinctive and often squabbling groupings. Porush, 53, an imposing figure on the ultra-Orthodox national political scene for years, his trademark bushy red beard going gray now, ran an intense campaign against Barkat, a venture capitalist in his second try to win the mayor's job. In an incident of violence in Jerusalem, police broke up a demonstration by extremist ultra-Orthodox Jews who do not recognize Israel. Police said they were trying to prevent people from voting.
The appearances of the two rivals underlined their differences. Porush wears a long, black coat and large, black skullcap, as do the tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews he represents. The bareheaded, casually dressed Barkat reflects the embattled, dwindling secular Jewish residents of Jerusalem. With a high birth rate and government financial support, ultra-Orthodox Jews are a growing proportion of Jerusalem's population, while many secular Jews are leaving the city because of their lack of control and rising municipal tax rates.Left out was the third sector _ Jerusalem's Palestinian residents. They make up a third of the city's population of 750,000 and have the right to vote after Israel annexed their section of the city in 1967. But most boycott instead of tacitly recognizing Israeli control by taking part in city elections. Palestinians claim their section of Jerusalem as the capital of the state they hope to create. The mayor of Jerusalem has no official standing in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, but one area of agreement between Porush and Barkat _ and the other two candidates who are seen as having little chance of victory _ is opposition to division of Jerusalem as part of a peace deal. Instead, the two leading candidates favor building thousands more apartments for Israelis in the disputed part of the city, angering Palestinians. More mundane issues face the incoming mayor. Financially strapped because a large proportion of its residents are poor, downtown Jerusalem has become shabby and dirty. In the past year it has also become a dusty construction zone, with the building of a light rail tying up traffic and angering residents and merchants alike. In Tel Aviv, two-term incumbent Ron Huldai handily defeated Dov Khenin, 50, a member of Israel's parliament from the Communist party Hadash. While Khenin is Jewish, his party is especially popular with Arab voters because of its calls for Palestinian and Arab rights. But Khenin's strong environmental stand rather than his views on Arab-Jewish relations have won him popularity in Tel Aviv, Israel's commercial and cultural center, home to 390,000 people. Huldai, 64, a former general, fighter pilot and high school principal with a pro-business bent, led Khenin by 50-30 percent with 80 percent of the vote counted, according to Israeli news media.
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