This past week Israel held municipal elections around the country. We had a government-endorsed vacation day to encourage voting. Businesses that stayed open were required to pay employees 200% (as if they worked on a holiday).
I went to my neighborhood polling station and found about 10 people outside promoting their candidates. They completely ignored me as I walked by. Did I project an aura of “I’ve already made up my mind, so don’t even”?
I expected to have to wait to vote. But there was not another voter in the whole building. It was just me at 1 o’clock in the afternoon doing my civic duty.
People often take pictures of themselves voting and post them on Facebook. Taking pictures of the voting process is perfectly fine. But I didn’t do it because the voting system is frankly a bit ridiculous.
In Jerusalem, you vote for a party list and you have a separate vote for the mayor. You don’t mark a ballot or vote on any particular issues. Personally, I feel like a kindergartner voting for class president.
When you walk in, you give the registrar your ID card and you receive two envelopes: a yellow one for the mayor, a white one for the party. You walk behind a cardboard partition and you’re faced with a divided tray filled with slips of paper. There are 21 parties each with their own letter (that may or may not obviously relate to the party name) and 5 mayoral candidates. You can also write in candidates.
One slip of paper in each envelope, seal them, and drop them into the locked cardboard box.
Pick up your ID and go on your merry way having completed your civic duty.
Seriously, Jerusalem? WTF?
The next morning we find that we will have a run-off election because no mayoral candidate passed the 40% majority threshold.
Not among the two left standing is the candidate who was endorsed by the outgoing mayor, the prime minister, the Likud party, and other candidates who stepped out of the running. Well, there was a report that he had loan guarantees provided by quite a few Russian oligarchs. And there was a weird text message campaign against him. I kept receiving anonymous messages saying that Gargamel doesn’t love the Smurfs and he doesn’t love Jerusalem either.
The young, secular guy who is left in the race was not endorsed by any major players and hasn’t raised as much money – although there is a rumor that he has money coming in that doesn’t have to be reported. On the down side, he has no management experience, he hasn’t worked with the Knesset, and he has a reputation for not getting along with colleagues.
But the worst thing is that even though there was a campaign to increase voter turnout and it was a holiday, Jerusalem’s voter turnout went DOWN from the last election. Last time it was 39% and this time it was 35%.
As I was walking to the voting station, I overheard a conversation:
“Are you going to vote?”
“Nah. I don’t like any of the candidates.”
You might think that Jerusalem was any old village in a far-flung corner of Nowheresville, not the home of 3 monotheistic religions, the crossroads of 3 continents, a flashpoint of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Center of the Universe, and the capital of the State of Israel.
Palestinians in East Jerusalem are encouraged to boycott the elections (as a method of not recognizing Israel), so you can understand why they didn’t vote. But all of the 65% of eligible voters who didn’t vote pretty much thumbed their noses at the future of this city with a hearty “Whatever, losers!” and went to the beach.
The run-off is on November 13 and it’s not a holiday. I have a sinking feeling that Apathy will be the winner on that day too.