(photo credit: )
Two hours before polling places were set to close on Tuesday night, the heads of Kadima, Likud and Labor urged the Israeli public to brave the rainy weather and cast their votes in the Knesset elections.
Speaking to Channel 2, Kadima leader and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was confident of a victory, saying that she would like to see both Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu and Labor chair and Defense Minister Ehud Barak "next to me in a government under my leadership."
She also made a last minute push for Israelis to cast votes, saying "rain or sun, either way - I want everyone to think about how they will feel when they hear the results later tonight."
Also speaking to Channel 2, Netanyahu said people should vote "for the change we want to bring about - to both security and the economy."
He called Livni and Barak "important representatives of important parties," but added "the nation wants a change."
Interviewed simultaneously with Livni and Netanyahu, Barak said he had felt "great warmth from the public" on Tuesday, and urged voters to "think about who you can really trust."
He added that he thought Livni and Netanyahu would "definitely be good ministers in my government."
Earlier in the day, Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman was the first of the leaders of the four major parties to vote, saying afterwards, "I wish to take advantage of this moment to call upon all of the residents of Israel, Jews and Christians, Druze and Muslim, to come and vote." He also praised his own party as the only one that "has come to work" and was confident that "people would come and vote even in a hurricane."
Netanyahu and his wife Sarah voted in Jerusalem's Rehavia neighborhood. He expressed optimism coming out of the polling booth. "The people want change, and today they will choose change," he said. "Those who want a new way will focus around the Likud and around me."
Livni voted near her Tel Aviv home and said, "I have done all that I want every citizen of Israel to do."
Later at her campaign headquarters, she said "whoever gets more mandates, the significance [of this] is that they receive the trust of the public and no one can argue with that."
"We are the only ones who can form a national unity government," she added.
Addressing those ensconced in their homes, Livni said: "Get out of your houses; rain or no rain, cold weather or warm weather, you go to the ballot booth, stand behind the partition, close your eyes and think; think of hope, think of what each and every one of us wants to feel when the results are published."
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also chose to cast his vote early, but did not have much to say to the media.
Barak cast his vote near his home in Tel Aviv and expressed confidence that his party would emerge stronger from the elections. "Today is the voters' day; people clear their heads of all of the spins and propaganda and ask themselves 'who can I trust,'" Barak said, calling upon voters to "come home" and vote for Labor.
Shas's spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, escorted by the party's chairman, Eli Yishai, and other Knesset members, arrived at a polling station in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Nof to cast his vote.
"I have a good feeling," Yishai said, entering the polling station, "My assessment is that Netanyahu will assemble the next government and that Shas will be stronger."
Yishai railed against those who opted to choose Lieberman's party, saying that they were "voting against Jewish tradition."
Yaakov Katz, the leader of the National Union party, cast his vote in the settlement of Beit El and took the opportunity to comment on the rainy weather.
"These rains are a blessing that portends a deluge of votes for the National Union," Katz said. "Our public is invigorated, not deterred, by the rain."
Green Movement-Meimad leader Rabbi Michael Melchior cast his vote at the Ahavat Zion school in Jerusalem and said there was "a very strong feeling" regarding his party's prospects.
"There is a buzz, smiles and lots of excitement," he said. "Thousands of Green Movement-Meimad volunteers are spread across the country with the utmost motivation in order to make the election surprise."
Melchior claimed that it was "clear that we have passed the voter threshold."
Yisrael Hazaka (A Strong Israel) chairman Ephraim Sneh was confident that his party would pass the threshold and win at least three seats.
"Election Day has begun and to stop crime that can harm every one of us we'll all vote "Hai" for Yisrael Hazaka," he said in a recorded telephone message to supporters Tuesday morning.