Israelis vote in tight election

Kadima and Likud locked in close race, with security topping the election agenda.

    The ruling Kadima party is running neck-and-neck with the opposition Likud party

    Kadima, headed by Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister, has hit the campaign trail hard in the last few days, attempting to close the gap with the opposition Likud party.

    But final opinion polls showed Likud marginally in the lead with the party likely to win between 25 and 27 seats. Kadima is predicted to get between 23 and 25 seats.

    "It's a close race. We don't know whether Likud or Kadima will win but we know the right will get the most votes," Gil Hoffman, a political analyst and chief correspondent for the Jerusalem Post newspaper, told Al Jazeera.

    'Right-wing' rising

    But the party to have received the greatest boost to its fortunes has been Yisrael Beiteinu, led by Avigdor Lieberman, a Russian immigrant. Lieberman insists Palestinian-Israeli citizens must swear an oath of loyalty to the Jewish state.

    In depth

    Al Jazeera's coverage of the Israel elections


    Video: Palestinians sceptical of Israeli polls
    Yisrael Beiteinu appears set to push Labor, one of Israel's big three parties and led by Ehud Barak, the defence minister, into fourth place.

    Israel's right-wing parties have seen significant gains in the wake of the Gaza conflict, in which over 1,300 Palestinians were killed.

    Most Israelis seem to have backed the offensive, which Israel said was in response to incessant rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel, and Lieberman with his hardline rhetoric has gained ground in its wake.

    Likud, the traditional right, says it would work towards peace from a position of strength.

    Kadima, a more centrist party, has promised to continue with the Annapolis peace talks, initiated by George Bush, the former US president.

    Undecided voters

    But the race remained tight with final opinion polls saying that up to 20 per cent of the voters were still undecided.

    Livni, however, struck a confident note on Monday, saying that "victory is in reach" for her Kadima party.

    Benyamin Netanyahu, who heads Likud, held his own press conference the same day, appearing alongside Yuval Rabin, the son of the late Yitzhak Rabin, a former prime minister assassinated in 1995.

    Yuval praised Netanyahu, but the event went badly for the Likud leader after a crowd heckled Yuval and prompted him to admit he would be voting for Labor.

    Last week, speaking to a group of West Bank settlers - a bastion of support for Likud - Netanyahu warned voters not to "waste votes on smaller parties".

    Both Likud and Kadima fear that smaller parties would take votes away from them. Yisrael Beiteinu's growing support is said to come mainly from defecting Likud supporters.

    Coalition government

    Under the Israeli electoral system, once the results are in, Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, will ask the person deemed most likely to form a coalition to form a government.

    Voting got off to a quiet start in Jerusalem because of rain and cold weather
    The chosen party would be given 28 days to form a coalition, a period which the president is entitled to extend by up to 14 days.

    To achieve a majority, a party or coalition must hold more than 60 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.

    Polls close at 10pm (20:00GMT), having opened at 7am. In keeping with tradition, Israel's national election day is a public holiday and last night, Jerusalem's downtown was filled with young revellers.

    Early voting took place on Monday in some areas of Israel and the West Bank, with soldiers in remote bases among those allowed to cast their ballot.

    Away from Jerusalem, fights broke out in Umm el-Fahm, a mainly Palestinian-Israeli town in Israel's Haifa district, when police prevented Baruch Marzel, an activist with the Jewish National Front, from observing the elections.

    Marzel had applied to observe the elections at Umm el-Fahm, a request granted by Israel's electoral commission.

    But Shimon Koren, the commander of the local police, said he had prevented Marzel from entering Umm el-Fahm to maintain order.

    Marzel said it was a black day for democracy in Israel.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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