Sunday, November 9, 2008

Local Elections - Bet Shemesh

The electoral process is much more complicated then in Canadian Municipalities. Elections are held every five years. Each voter receives two ballots, one for Mayor and one for City Council. For Mayor if nobody gets 40% of the vote on the first ballot there is a run off between the top two contenders the following.

City Council is chosen by Proportional Representation. Each party has a list of candidates and voters choose the party they like. This year City Council will expanding from 17 to 19 seats. Any party that receives less than 3.95% of the vote have their votes thrown out. Then prearranged vote transfer agreements are applied between the parties. After that all the votes are divided by 19 (5.26%) to determine how many seats each party gets. It is normal for a party to have one or two seats although some of the bigger parties end up with up to three seats.

One may think that the complicated formula would deter people from being concerned about vote splitting. This is not the case. This year there is a party (Chen) that has served on city council last term. Everyone acknowledges that they did a good job and were a valuable member of city council. A new party has targeted a large percentage of their core base support. The consensus is that the party will not win a seat. Those who wish to support the party are faced with the dilemma of possibly wasting a vote or worse taking there vote to a safer candidate gaurenteeing the loss of their party of choice. Most of the party issues are too complex to delve into unless you really care about the local issues. On to the race for Mayor.

There are three candidates running for more. The unpopular incumbent Mayor is Daniel Vaknin. He is being challenged by Deputy Mayor Shalom Lerner and Moshe Abutbul. Abutbul and Lerner are close friends who are in the race to overthrow Vaknin.

Daniel Vaknin (Likud) - Vaknin has served as the Mayor of Bet Shemesh for three terms. He has a reputation of playing dirty politics and making promisses to everyone to get elected. Over the years he has halted many projects to expand and grow the city because it was not exactly what he wanted. Those who have worked hard to get him elected make themselves only accountable to him and have no fear of the consequences of not getting things done. Most of his support this time around come from fear of electing a Haredi Mayor. Abutbul complained to senior levels of Shas that Vaknin was sending out anti-Sephardic propoganda. The complaint was passed on to Netanyahu who said that he didn't really want Vaknin to win.

Moshe Abutbul (Shas) - Abutbul is dedicated to doing a good job and will be an upgrade from the current Mayor. His core support is from people who have their Rabbi instruct them how they should vote. In order to build up support he has entered into coalitions with various parties with very specific special interests. He wants to be able to reach out to all the different groups in the city. The agreements he has in place are going to keep his hands tied from achieving that goal. Some of the key players in his support are more interested in building power for themselves rather then helping the communities they claim to represent.

Abutbul wants to do a lot to help the city. He beleives it is simply a matter of cutting up the pie differently. In fact the issue may be he needs a bigger pie. On his goal to build a local hospital, he thinks the money can simply be raised outside of Israel. He has also suggested he wants a central bus station in Bet Shemesh. If he can help build the economy there may be a bigger pie to meet all of his expectations down the road. Until then he may have no choice but to focus on diverting funds to the Haredi community that could get him elected.

Shalom Lerner (B'Yachad) - Lerner is the head of his own local party. It is the closest thing to having a Centre leaning candidate. He tends to see the big picture on various issues and understand that different groups have different needs. He gave an example of a swimming pool that he had arranged to be donated to Bet Shemesh. The only condition was that it would be seperate swimming. Vaknin canned the proposal in order to avoid upsetting the residents who want mixed swimming. As a result there is one swimming pool servicing 100,000 people. The point Lerner made is that if there were many swimming pools, they could have different rules to cater to the needs of the various groups. Lerner applies this type of logic to all kinds of city problems. He wants an express bus from the Ramma to the train station. It could be done very inexpensivly without involving the major bus companies and would save valuable time for those who rely on the train. He has the type of forward thinking to really make Bet Shemesh a great city.

In the end this is a two horse race between Abutbul & Lerner. Vatnin's support has dropped so drastically that it looks like it is going to be decided on the first ballot. Lerner would make the best Mayor because his background and experience make him able to cater to the different conflicting interests of the city. Abutbul would also be a good Mayor and would probably incorporate B'Yachad into a significant role in his government. By the very nature of his core support he is going to allienate people that he should be helping.

No matter what the outcome, hopefully this election will bring change that will bring prosperity to Bet Shemesh.

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