Israelis began voting in parliamentary elections with early participation high. Exit polls showed right-of-centre Benjamin Netanyahu and centrist Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni locked in a tight race, followed by far-right candidate Avigdor Lieberman.
Despite predictions of a low turnout, more Israelis had cast ballots in the first nine hours of voting than during the same period in the 2006 general election, according to officials.
For weeks, rightwing former premier Benjamin Netanyahu was leading in the polls against centrist Kadima head Tzipi Livni, who nonetheless managed to regain some ground in the final days of the campaign.
More than five million Israelis are eligible to vote. But party officials have warned that the turnout might be low after a lacklustre campaign focusing on security issues.
“Israelis found the campaign insipid and boring,” says
Israel’s massive offensive in Gaza also put political rallies on hold and considerably dampened the campaign season.
Cold and rainy weather throughout the country is also expected to deter Israelis from heading to polling stations.
“Voting is not compulsory in
After five hours of voting, 23.4% of Israeli voters had cast their ballot, a two percent increase on the last poll three years ago, election officials told reporters.
No single party is expected to secure more than 30% of the 120 Knesset seats, meaning the party with the highest number of votes will almost certainly have to form a coalition to govern. The race could be determined by smaller parties, critically right-wing parties such as the ultra-orthodox Shas party and the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party headed by controversial politician Avigdor Lieberman.
Tuesday’s poll was called by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is standing down in the face of corruption charges. An attempt by Livni to form a new government following Olmert’s announcement collapsed after Livni failed to seal a deal with the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.
Record number of undecided voters
Opinion polls show a record 20% of the electorate was undecided shortly before polls opened.
Anatoly Vorobey, an Israeli software engineer working in Tel Aviv, says he is an undecided voter who will probably give his vote to the less “evil choice”.
“I haven’t decided who I’ll be voting for yet but I think I’m inclined to vote Kadima or Likud. They’re a less evil choice,” he told
Opinion polls also show that Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party is likely to displace Labour as the third party in the Knesset. Pledging to get tougher with Palestinians, including Israeli Arabs, Lieberman has garnered much support over the past few weeks.
Defence Minister Ehud Barak of the once dominant Labour party was trailing in fourth place, though his poll numbers have more than doubled since the Gaza offensive. He reminded voters that Labour was the only genuine left-wing party in the race.
Date created : 2009-02-10