Not since the 2001 primary between Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Avraham Burg had the Labor Party's headquarters in Tel Aviv's Hatikva neighborhood been so full of light and packed with people who had been up all night crossing their fingers.
The focus of everyone in the room was a large screen where the official results of the race were slowly revealed. Until 3:48 a.m., the screen showed that incumbent Shimon Peres had beaten challenger Amir Peretz by a narrow margin. But it had already been clear that those numbers were misleading when the first official results came in shortly after the polls closed at 8:30 p.m. showing that Peretz had won in several towns where Peres was expected to win easily. Peretz's supporters gradually filled the room, but it did not really wake up until Peres called a press conference shortly after 3 a.m. at his Tel Aviv campaign headquarters.
A weary Peres announced he would not accept the results due to voting irregularities in the southern development towns of Sderot and Mitzpe Ramon and would ask Labor's legal institutions to examine complaints. "The results in certain sectors are unreasonable and disproportionate in a significant way," Peres said. "I didn't know there would be such complaints. To be honest with you, I expected a better night."
Shortly after the press conference, Peretz took the lead in the vote tally and his supporters started shouting "victory, victory." But a Peretz adviser quieted the crowd and said that Peretz would not come to the building until Labor Secretary-General Eitan Cabel officially declared him the victor.
Cabel meanwhile convened Labor's elections committee members who decided at 5 a.m. to reject Peres's appeals because no petition was made during the day and there was nothing questionable about the voting process. Cabel said even if all the polling stations Peres protested were disqualified, Peretz would have still won.
At 5:20 a.m., Cabel officially declared Peretz the winner to the applause of a room now full of Peretz supporters. The final official results showed that Peretz won 42.35 percent of the vote. Peres received 27,098 votes, or 39.96%, and Ben-Eliezer 10,764 votes, 15.82%.
Peretz entered the room at 6 a.m. to chants declaring him the next prime minister. He thanked his supporters, declared victory for his "social revolution" and reached out to Peres.
"I would like to turn to my mentor, one of the dearest people of this country, our friend, a man we love with all our heart," Peretz said. "I know this is a difficult moment but this could still turn out to be the most important moment for the State of Israel. Shimon, contrary to others that turned to you in the past, I really want you to be by my side."
Peretz said that his first goal as Labor leader would be to remove Labor from the national-unity government.
"We will get together, all the senior party leadership and its MKs, and decide on the way in which we would notify the prime minister that we wish to quit," Peretz said. "We need to leave... out of responsibility for the Israeli democracy, for the future of the State of Israel and, of course, to allow Labor to become an alternative. Our aim is to turn Labor into an alternative that will conquer the next general election."
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