Israeli leaders across the country headed to the polls early Tuesday morning, encouraging citizens to exercise their right to vote, while making sure to nudge them in the direction of their own parties.
Israel’s fate for up to the next four years will be decided today as 10,132 polling stations nationwide opened at 7 a.m. and will close at 10 p.m. Some 5,656,705 voters will be eligible to choose among 32 parties.
Israel's number one citizen, President Shimon Peres, was one of the first to cast a ballot after arriving at a polling station in Jerusalem.
"You can hesitate over who to vote for, but don't hesitate to vote," Peres said.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara on Tuesday morning voted at the polling station near their home in Jerusalem's Rehavia neighborhood.
“Citizens, you need to decide what you’re voting for – a weak and scattered Israel or a strong and united Israel,” Netanyahu said at a Jerusalem press briefing on Monday. “I have no doubt that most will decide to return to Likud-Yisrael Beytenu. There is no other ruling party.”
Video: I am praying today for the future of Israel, and with God's help for the future of our nation. I believe in this. I am sure that Israeli citizens will do whatever they can to give strength to the nation of Israel in its land. Good luck to us all. (text in Hebrew)
Labor party head Shelly Yacimovich voiced a measure of hopefulness on the morning of national elections, saying she was confident that Israelis could replace Netanyahu. "Three to four mandates can really mean that things will be better, that we will be a normal country with strong society and a reasonable economy," she said according to Israeli media.
Video: Israeli leaders vote across the country (text in Hebrew)
Naftali Bennett and his wife headed to a polling station in the Bayit Yehudi leader's hometown of Ra'anana. Dozens of activists surrounded Bennett, singing songs and dancing around him as he approached the station, according to Israeli media.
Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman recalled Monday's surprise win of the traditionally right-wing Betar Jerusalem soccer team over the Leftist Hapoel Tel Aviv. "Just as the Betarists won convincingly last night, so too will the national camp - the Likud Beytenu - will win today," he said.
After voting in an elementary school in Ramat Aviv Gimmel, Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid touted the importance of voting as being "not a democratic right but a democratic duty."
"The cliché about this being a celebration of democracy turns into a day of sadness if people sit home instead of voting," Lapid said.
Tzipi Livni cast her ballot in a Northern Tel Aviv school, saying her vote represented her hope for a change in Israel's government.
"I put in that envelope my hopes, not just my personal ones, but for the state of Israel as a whole," Livni said. "I am excited because I hope that we will wake up to a morning after, after four years of policy that isolated Israel."
Asked by photographers to flash her pearly whites for the cameras as she put her envelope into the box, Livni coyly said, "I'll smile when the polls come in."
Zehava Gal-On expressed optimism that her Meretz party would have a good showing in the elections after casting her ballot at the Hadar school in Petah Tikva. "I got up and voted with a feeling of great optimism," Gal-On said. "I feel that the Left has a real opportunity and that the momentum is on our side."
Kadima head Shaul Mofaz predicted that his party would be the "surprise of the elections" and encouraged voters to send him to the Knesset. "The Left is inexperienced and the Right is irresponsible," Mofaz said. "Kadima is a true centrist party."
Greer Faye Cashman, Niv Elis and Yonah Jeremy Bob contributed to this report
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