Yona Yahav is the next mayor of Haifa. Yahav, who contested the position at the head of the Shinui-Greens-Neighborhoods Union list, won 51.91 percent of the ballots cast (41,242 votes) in the city Tuesday to overcome his nearest rival, Likud and One Nation candidate Shmuel Arad, who came away with the support of 42.85 percent of the voters (34,043 ballots).
The other two candidates in the race - Aryeh Blithenthal (United Torah Judaism) and Shimon Ohayon (Altalena) - together captured less than 5 percent of the votes cast.
The results from the counting at all the polling stations do not include the votes of 460 soldiers and 402 disabled individuals that have yet to be counted.
Yahav, 59, a lawyer by profession, married, and a father of three children, comes to the post with a rich background of municipal activity, having served as a city councillor for many years, as deputy mayor during Amram Mitzna's first term in office as Haifa mayor, and as chairman of the city's Economics Company and municipal theater.
Yahav was also elected to the Knesset in 1996.
Yahav was supported in the mayoral elections by the Labor Party, which gave the Shinui-Greens-Neighborhoods Union candidate its backing after its own candidate, Aliza Shenhar, announced Saturday night that she was withdrawing from the race to join forces with the mayor-elect.
Tuesday's elections in Haifa were characterized by a low percentage poll, with just 34.59 percent of the eligible voters (84,051 residents) turning out to cast their ballots. In contrast, the Haifa mayoral elections in 1998 saw a percentage poll of 43.87 percent.
By law, Yahav will assume his new position within 21 days of the elections and following their publication in the official Government Gazette.
Yahav's list also won the most seats on the Haifa City Council, which numbers 31 members. His faction, Our Haifa, won six seats (16.5 percent of the votes) on the council, and has a slight chance of winning a seventh following the counting of the votes of the soldiers and disabled.
The Likud came away with five seats (16.4 percent of the votes) and the Labor Party made do with three (10.7 percent of the votes). Shas received 4.9 percent of the votes cast in Haifa, and Together, a Russian immigrant list, garnered 6.5 percent of the ballots.
In total, 14 lists will be represented on the council, with five of them having just one city councillor to boast of.
Yahav turned up at his headquarters at 3 A.M. yesterday, and only after he was sure that he had won the race. He apologized for the late hour, saying that his wife had asked him to first finish washing the dishes after spending the last three months on the campaign trail and away from home.
He said his victory was the Haifa residents' triumph over the political machinery, money and government ministers that had supported the Likud candidate. He undertook that as mayor, he would work with all the factions and groups in the city without discriminating against any of them.
The mayor-to-be added that the Israeli political map had been changed in Haifa, referring to Shinui's victory and Labor's downfall. "In five-and-a-half years' time, the city will look completely different," he said to the applause of his supporters.
Conceding defeat, Arad congratulated Yahav, but noted that he also viewed the results as an important achievement in that the Likud had doubled its strength on the city council and that 42 percent of the Haifa residents had wanted to see him as mayor.
"The results show that had Yahav and Shenhar not joined forces, I would have been mayor in the first round [of voting]."