While secular and Religious Zionist activists railed against the results of the municipal elections in Beit Shemesh, in which incumbent Mayor Moshe Abutbul was reelected, beating out challenger Eli Cohen by less than 1,000 votes, MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Jewry) said that the pressure for a recount or repeat of the elections by those opposed to Abutbul was “anti-democratic.”
Amid accusations of fraud, Abutbul was named the winner in the municipal elections last week. Until proven otherwise, said Gafni, it should be assumed that the victory was legitimate – and attempts to use public pressure to overturn the results or institute a new vote were unfair.
“These were democratic elections, in which all Beit Shemesh residents participated equally,” Gafni said. “Moshe Abutbul won. Any protests disputing this, or demands to repeat the election, should be considered extremely anti-democratic moves. We cannot have a situation where those who are dissatisfied with the results of an election will ask for a 'do-over,' using protests and petitions.”
The contentious campaign in Beit Shemesh, in which Abutbul, the Shas mayor who is supported by hareidi elements in the town, barely defeated Cohen, the candidate of most of the secular and Religious Zionist communities in Beit Shemesh, has extended long beyond the election results were counted. Earlier this week, some 2,000 people held a major protest demanding a recount or repeat of the election in light of the reports of fraud in the election. Petitions are also being circulated advocating “spinning off” Ramat Beit Shemesh, making it a separate town, where Abutbul would presumably remain mayor.
Opponents of Abutbul contend that he was illegitimately elected, citing multiple cases of fraud, which they said they had many accounts of.
For example, on the day of the elections, police raided a local apartment and found approximately 200 fake ID cards. The cards were found to bear the names of Beit Shemesh residents who would have been eligible to vote in the elections, but who were overseas on elections day. Police arrested eight hareidi-religious men who are suspected of having created the ID cards with the intention of using them to cast illegal votes, presumably for Abutbul. One of the men who has been questioned in the affair is the son of a hareidi-religious Member of Knesset.
Gafni said that if there had indeed been fraud in the election, the place to address those issues was court, not the street. “The law is clear, and the place to deal with fraud is in court, not in protests demanding a new election,” he said.
According to Gafni, contentious municipal elections take place on a regular basis, but no one ever demands a repeat election. “If the elected mayor had not been a hareidi member of Shas, no one would dare demand a recount,” said Gafni. “The fact is that Beit Shemesh has chosen Moshe Abutbul to lead it again. Any attempts to change this must be seen as anti-democratic,” he added.
His statement comes as opponents of Abutbul are voicing increased confidence over the prospect of a re-count or even rerun of the hotly-disputed elections.