As Yeruham Returns to Polls, Candidates Court Undecideds

Yeruham council head Amram Mitzna is stepping down after five years on the job.

Thousands of eligible voters are expected at polling stations this coming Tuesday in the Negev town of Yeruham to elect a successor to local council head Amram Mitzna, who is leaving after five years on the job.

The town has been swept up in election fever, with campaign posters and signs adorning nearly ever street corner. Five years ago, the city's local council was disbanded and Mitzna was brought in by the Interior Ministry to administer the town.

yeruham - Eliyahu Hershkowitz - November 19 2010
Eliyahu Hershkowitz

Now Michael Biton, Ilan Elmakayes, Yaakov Benisti, Moti Batito, Rabbi Yaakov Buskila and former mayor Moti Avisrur are all battling for the job.

Mitzna seems impervious to the political carnival raging outside of his office.

"Even after I conclude my term at the local council, I will still devote some of my time for the benefit of Yeruham," he said.

The hotly contested race is likely to reach a climax tomorrow, as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is due to stump for Elmakayes. Political observers in Yeruham said that Lieberman's arrival could have a decisive impact on the vote of Russian-speaking residents.

Elmakayes said that while he is faced with challenges from tough candidates, he believes that he will score a first-round victory.

"I promised the residents of Yeruham a clean campaign, and I kept my promise," he said. "We are now at the moment of truth. The residents of Yeruham want new leadership, and I plan on uniting everyone and leading Yeruham to independence. We will win the election convincingly and get to the real task at hand on the 24th of this month."

Biton also believes that a first-round victory is within reach. "We are heading down the stretch," he said.

"Now we are making last preparations before judgment day, the atmosphere is very supportive. Many undecided voters make decisions during the final days of campaigning. We are connected to all organizations active in the town. If we are active among the undecided voters and we connect to groups that are still sitting on the fence and convince them to vote for us, [we will win]," he said.

Avisrur, who says internal polling shows him with the lead, praised his rivals for what he said was a fair campaign.

"This is an awfully quiet campaign, unlike previous ones in the city," he said. "This demonstrates political maturity that has taken hold in Yeruham, and I believe that this maturity will be borne out at the voting stations."