Israeli Elections: Record Turnout, But Uncertainty Reigns As Parties Battle For Second

on January 22 2013 1:53 PM
  • Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid
    Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid party, speaks to campaign volunteers in the southern city of Ashkelon. Lapid and his centrist-right party were the surprise winners in the Israeli elections on January 22. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
  • Bennett
    Naftali Bennett, the leader of the Jewish Home party, at a meeting with supporters in Tel Aviv Ronen Zvulun/Reuters
  • Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
    Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu touches the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City after casting his ballot for the parliamentary election Reuters
  • Israel Labor party leader Shelley Yacimovich
    Labour party leader Shelly Yachimovich enters a car covered in a campaign banner after a ceremony for Tu Bishvat, the Jewish arbor day, in Ben-Shemen forest, near the Israeli town of Modiin between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem January 20, 2013. Opinion polls have shown Labour, which ruled Israel for decades but now holds only eight seats in parliament, bouncing back to second place behind Likud under new leader Yachimovich. Reuters/Nir Elias
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The polls in Israel close at 2 p.m. New York time, and the only certain numbers coming forward so far are that, as of 8 p.m. local time (1 p.m. in New York), voter turnout was the highest it had been since 1999, reaching 63.7 percent, and was projected to top 80 percent among soldiers in the Israeli Defense Force, Times of Israel reported. At 7:15 local time, Haaretz reported that voting in Arab communities like Nazareth was beginning to pick up.

“This is the highest turnout we’ve had in 10 years,” said Jonny Daniels, a political consultant for the right-wing Likud party, which is projected to keep its plurality in the Knesset, although Daniels said that it was hard to tell how big that would be. “Basically, nobody has a clue what’s happening. It’s impossible to tell how it’s going to end up.”

The Likud-Beiteinu coalition was widely projected to hold on to some 34 or 35 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, with the left-wing Labor Party holding down the opposition bloc as the second largest party. But as polling draws to a close, rumors have begun to circulate that it will actually be the brand-new Yesh Atid Party, whose name in English means “There Is A Future,” that will actually steal the place of second-largest party.

Yesh Atid, a liberal-centrist party headed by Israeli TV journalist Yair Lapid, was founded in 2012, and before Tuesday was polling at 13 to 14 seats, about equivalent with the right-wing Jewish Home party headed by Naftali Bennett. 

An hour before polls closed, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted a message in Hebrew on his Facebook page, admitting that “Likud rule is in danger,” and encouraging readers to vote for Likud.

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