Election Fever Grips Yeruham as Locals Gear Up to Replace Mitzna

Five years have gone by since Yeruham's local council was disbanded and former prime ministerial candidate Amram Mitzna was appointed mayor. But now, the color has returned to the faces of the local politicians. In two months, 5,584 eligible voters in the community will go to the polls and vote for the local council that will replace the former head of the Labor Party.

The Negev town has been swept up in election fever and the placards of the candidates can be seen everywhere. The elections have become the talk of the town, along with the possible economic and political scenarios that may unfold once a new mayor is chosen.

There are six confirmed candidates for Mitzna's job: Michael Biton, Ilan Elmakayes, Yaakov Benisti, Moti Batito, Rabbi Yaakov Buskila. And then there's the man who has not yet confirmed his candidacy: one of the town's former mayors, Moti Avisrur, who announced he was retiring from politics when he lost the mayoralty to Baruch Elmakayes, who was representing the Labor Party.

The election campaign was exceptionally tense and included a great deal of underhanded political attacks. Baruch Elmakayes won after convincing Yeruham's religious community to support him.

Elmakayes was mayor for two years, until he was removed from office by Ophir Pines-Paz, the interior minister at the time, because of financial irregularities at the municipality. Pines-Paz appointed Mitzna mayor in an effort to restore proper governance. All the candidates jostling to replace Mitzna, who had previously served two terms as mayor of Haifa, say he did a great job in the southern town.

Meanwhile, Likud decided on Tuesday not to hold primaries at the party branch in Yeruham. It has decided to back Avisrur if he ends up running.

But in spite of local pressure to run, Avisrur is still undecided. Sources close to him say that he will run only if he proves able to build a strong coalition that he hopes will be immune to outside political pressures.

If Avisrur does decide to run, he will be faced with a difficult opponent in the form of Michael Biton, who is running as an independent.

"Yeruham is being put to yet another test of political maturity, following years of stable governance under Amram Mitzna, who did a good job in Yeruham," Biton said. "But it is not possible to resolve 60 years of difficulties in five years."

"One can feel that there is interest in politics in the street, and there is both great hesitation and great hope," he said.

All the candidates are discussing the exodus of young residents and the town's housing shortage.