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(photo credit: AP [file])
Kadima's last-minute campaign to win more seats than Likud by taking mandates away from its natural allies in Labor and Meretz succeeded, according to preliminary results of Tuesday's election.
More than 150,000 votes from soldiers, prisoners, hospital patients and emissaries abroad will be counted on Thursday, allowing final results to be known by Thursday night, but the official results will not be published in the government gazette until February 18.
Likud officials expressed hope that the party would gain a seat from the soldiers' votes, as it did in the 2006 election, which would tie Likud and Kadima at 28 seats.
The votes of the soldiers in the past have taken a seat or two away from Arab parties and given them to parties on the Right. If that should happen, the 10-seat margin of the Right bloc's 65-55 over the Left would become even larger.
Kadima, which brought the Likud down in 2006 from 40 seats to 12, caused damage in the other direction this time, bringing Labor down from 19 seats to 13 and Meretz from five to three.
In a further defeat for the Left bloc, the Pensioner's Party, which won seven seats in 2006, will not return to the Knesset.
The Likud did not succeed as well as Kadima in its efforts to draft votes away from its satellite parties. But the party did gain a seat or two away from Israel Beiteinu in the last few days of the campaign.
While Israel Beiteinu did not win the 20 seats predicted by some polls at the end of last week, they did get the 15 the party set as its goal at the start of the campaign.
Shas fell by one seat from 12 seats in the last election to 11, but party chairman Eli Yishai managed to prevent a worse fall that would have left him at risk to be challenged by former party leader Aryeh Deri, who is legally allowed to return to politics in the summer.
The National Union and Habayit Hayehudi won only seven seats between them, down from the nine the National Union-National Religious Party earned in 2006, dashing hopes that the national-religious sector might gain more seats with the parties running separately.
They lost seats to the Likud, which tried to attract national-religious voters with a campaign specifically targeted at them, led by outgoing NU-NRP MK Effi Eitam.
T`here will be fewer religious MKs in the 18th Knesset than its predecessor, 28 instead of 34. But there will be more religious women in the new Knesset, thanks to the additions of the Likud's Lea Nass and Tzipi Hotovely. The last Knesset had only one, Meretz's Tzvia Greenfield, who served for only a few months.
There will be a record 21 women in the new Knesset, including seven from Kadima, but women's rights groups have lost their top advocate in outgoing Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On.
So the Knesset will have more of a female touch for the next few years, regardless of whether Kadima leader Tzipi Livni form the next government.