Election Day: Israelis Go to the Polls


new_imagerevisedFor the third time in nine years, and exactly 1,050 days after the previous elections, Israelis are once again going to the polling stations today. Voting commenced at 7 a.m. across the country, allowing the 5,278,985 eligible voters to cast their ballots in 9,263 polling stations nationwide and determine the makeup of the 18th Knesset.

Yahadus HaTorah-UTJ  is hoping that a recorded message from MK Meir Porush will help convince undecided voters to come out of their homes. The party is operating a transportation system to help people get to the polling stations.

Chacham Ovadia Yosef and Shas party chairman Eli Yishai were meet at Rav Yosef’s home before going to vote. Shas’ other MKs will tour different parts of the country while 500 telemarketing systems will make calls to the party’s potential electorate and remind them to cast their ballot.

Likud chairman Binyomin Netanyahu and Kadima leader Tzipi Livni began their day this morning by casting their ballots in the hopes of ending their night with a victory party in the election for the 18th Knesset. Both leading candidates expressed cautious optimism yesterday that they would emerge victorious in the election, but their associates said they expected the race to be very close and that it was possible that neither side would win decisively.

In final messages to their potential voters, delivered in meetings with top party activists and media interviews, Netanyahu and Livni stressed that the race was between the two of them and that whoever voted for a smaller party would end up with a prime minister they did not want.

“With G-d’s help, we will win,” Netanyahu said on a visit to the Kosel last night, reported here.

“Victory is at hand,” Livni declared on a train ride from Tel Aviv to the Negev.

Polls will close at 10 p.m. in most municipalities. Exit polls will be broadcast on the three networks at 10 p.m., but real results are not expected to be available until after 2 a.m. tomorrow, and if the race is close, perhaps not before 5 a.m.

President Shimon Peres is expected to meet with both Netanyahu and Livni after the results are published and, following consultations with the heads of the factions elected to the Knesset, to entrust one of them with forming a new government.

Netanyahu and Livni said they would form a national-unity government that would be as wide as possible, but they both hinted yesterday that should the other win the race, they would not join the victor’s coalition.

Livni said she expected Netanyahu to join the government if she formed it, but she all but ruled out joining if he won.

“I will not participate in a government that I am not leading and that I do not believe in,” Livni said in media interviews. “I will not be a fig leaf for a path that I do not believe in. People have to know that if they vote for Bibi, that’s what they will get, and they will get Shas, too.”

Sources close to Netanyahu said that even if Kadima won more seats than the Likud, the size of the right-wing bloc would prevent Livni from forming a coalition. They said that even if Kadima defeated Likud, the Right bloc’s victory over the Left would require Peres to let Netanyahu form the government.

“I think the Likud will win more seats than Kadima, but I am absolutely sure that the Right will win many more seats than the Left,” a source close to Netanyahu said. “If the Left shrinks by 15 seats, that would be a big rejection of Kadima. Even if Livni somehow pulls off more seats than Likud, the Right will win a big victory, and [the president] won’t be able snatch its victory away.”

Livni’s associates countered that if she won the race by one seat, it would mean that she was the choice of the public.

Channel 10 reported that Labor chairman Ehud Barak had made a deal with Netanyahu in which he agreed to prevent Livni from forming a government in return for the Defense portfolio. Kadima officials said that in such a scenario, the Left would pressure Barak to reject Netanyahu in her favor.

Barak said yesterday that if Labor did not win close to 20 seats, he would not be able to justify joining the coalition even if he were still guaranteed the Defense portfolio.

Yisroel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman, whose party is expected to win more seats than Labor, has not ruled out joining a government led by Netanyahu or Livni, but the party’s No. 2 candidate, former minister Uzi Landau, suggested yesterday that his party would remain in the opposition if Livni won the race.

Both Likud and Kadima have already begun contacts with smaller factions in an effort to begin the process of forming a government.

Kadima’s strategists said their party was going into the election with momentum that the Likud lacked. They said they had learned from past elections that momentum was worth two or three mandates due to the boost it gave organizationally.

In an effort to restore his party’s momentum, Netanyahu held a press conference yesterday with former Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin’s son, Yuval, who once accused the Likud leader of inciting for his father’s death. Rabin praised Netanyahu for his intention to unite the nation by forming a national-unity government.

But the event ended up backfiring for Netanyahu because Rabin was heckled by demonstrators from Meretz, and he later admitted that he intended to vote for Labor.

“Bibi’s manipulation boomeranged on him, and he ended up scoring for us in his own goal,” said the head of the Labor campaign’s response team, MK Ophir Paz-Pines.

Livni remained optimistic yesterday and told Ynet: “I know we will win, because that’s the right thing and it’s what will happen. I know it, I feel it. I sense it among the public, I see it in the polls and everywhere.”

Referring to concerns that the rain might deter people from coming out to vote, Livni said: “In the United States people went out in below-zero temperatures, and I expect the same to happen here. Rain shouldn’t scare people who are deciding their fate.”

In any case, the party has purchased some 10,000 umbrellas to hand out to voters. Kadima will also operate a transportation system to help potential voters get to the polling stations.

In order to motivate Labor voters, the party’s campaign headquarters will see to it that loyal supporters receive phone calls from volunteers. However, the activity is expected to be limited due to budget considerations.

Yisrael Beiteinu’s leader Avigdor Lieberman is scheduled to vote at the local polling station near his Nokdim home in the morning before going on a tour in the south.

Party MK Stas Misezhnikov told Ynet that 500 activists were ready to deploy across the country today, while dozens others will make phone calls to potential voters.

Yisrael Beiteinu candidate and former Israeli Ambassador to Washington Danny Ayalon has been tasked with briefing the foreign press. “This is a new and very exciting experience for me,” he said.

Meanwhile, some 180,000 potential Habayit Hayehudi voters will receive text messages and phone calls from volunteers urging them to vote, stressing the need for religious representation at the next Knesset.

{Yair Alpert-Matzav.com Israel/News Agencies}