Secular victory in Jerusalem? A Channel 1 exit poll published at 10 pm Tuesday, as polling stations were closing down, shows a first round victory for secular candidate Nir Barkat in the Jerusalem municipal elections.
According to the poll, ultra-Orthodox candidate Meir Porush came in second with 42% of the vote. Billionaire Arcady Gaydamak won 7% of the vote according to the exit poll.
Barkat was aiming to put an end to five years of ultra-Orthodox dominance at city hall. However, Barkat's campaign officials were not quick to celebrate, saying they will be waiting for the actual results. Interior Ministry officials estimated that initial results will be received at around 1 am.
Nonetheless, Barkat supporters received the poll results with immense excitement and have been singing and dancing ever since. Shimi Kaplan, a volunteer at the Barkat headquarters, said "there is something in the air, a sense of change. Now it will be impossible to ignore the secular community in the city."
Meanwhile, officials at Porush's campaign headquarters expressed their confidence that the final results will show a wholly different picture.
"According to the data we have, which is based on turnout rates, we are not at all concerned about the results, to say the least," a source in Porush's camp said.
The relatively low turnout rates are supposed to favor Porush. His camp said Porush supporters hit the polling stations en masse.
'Complete distortion of democracy'
Speaking about 90 minutes before polls closed, Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit voiced his concerns about low voter turnout rates.
By 8 pm Tuesday, the turnout rate stood at about 40% nationwide, with lower rates in the largest cities, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa. The highest voter turnout rates were recorded in Arab communities across the country.
"The implication of a low turnout rate is that small groups that are better organized gain strength that is two or three times their real power in the public," he said. "In my view, this is complete distortion of democracy."
Meanwhile, a total of 420 irregular incidents were recorded at ballots throughout Israel on Tuesday as the election day winded to an end. Police held a special security briefing, with Commissioner Dudi Cohen in attendance.
Police also detained 20 people suspected of trying to disrupt the election process, several of whom have been arrested. Commissioner Cohen has ordered efforts be focused on ensuring ballots are closed in an orderly fashion and their transfer to their final destinations be secured.