Israelis head to polls to elect 19th Knesset

Concerns about complacency hang over elections as 10,132 polling stations poise to open nationwide; Likud Beytenu worried about dropping below 30 seats; Labor party leader says with high turnout "we can replace Netanyahu."

IDF voting Golan 09 (photo credit: Reuters)
IDF voting Golan 09
(photo credit: Reuters)
Israel’s fate for up to the next four years will be decided on Tuesday when 5,656,705 voters will be eligible to choose among 32 parties at 10,132 polling stations nationwide from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Politicians from across the political spectrum expressed optimism that, with good weather expected, turnout in the election would surpass the 64.7 percent of the last race four years ago.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will vote in Jerusalem and then do everything possible to encourage supporters of his joint Likud- Yisrael Beytenu list to cast their ballots.
His associates expressed concern Monday night that the joint list could end up falling below the 30-mandate mark, because of the drift of votes to satellite parties on the Right.
“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.”
The Likud and Yisrael Beytenu received a combined 1,123,631 votes in the last election, more than one-third of the valid ballots cast.
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At a press conference at the Likud’s Tel Aviv campaign headquarters, party officials said 40,000 activists from the two parties would be employed to get out the vote, far more than their competition.
“The turnout among voters on the Left tends to be higher than on the Right,” said Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who heads the Likud’s campaign.
“We don’t know which polls are more correct but we saw the gap between us and the other parties closing, so our supporters cannot be complacent.”
Sa’ar expressed confidence that the Likud could win the decisive victory Netanyahu needs to form a stable government that could last four years.
When asked what would constitute a clear victory, he responded, “A success that will force the pollsters to explain why they were wrong.”
But other Likud officials said they were worried about the party’s recent fall in the polls, which continued in internal surveys after Friday, when the last polls were legally permitted to be published.
MK Carmel Shama-Hacohen, who is 32nd on the combined Likud Beytenu list, complained on Facebook about the drift of votes to Bayit Yehudi, noting extremist stereotypes about candidates on the list of Naftali Bennett’s party.
“I might see the next Knesset only on television,” MK Carmel Shama-Hacohen wrote.
“Maybe my place will be taken by someone with a vision of blowing up the Aksa mosque or someone from Hebron who tries to stop women from singing. No matter who it would be, he would be subjugated to a rabbi who ruled that the murderer Baruch Goldstein was as saintly as the victims of the Holocaust.”
Former minister Tzahi Hanegbi, who heads the Likud’s Election Day headquarters, said the inability of parties on the Left to unite behind a leader who could be an alternative candidate for prime minister harmed the Likud by “lulling its voters to sleep.”
Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich told her party activists that it was still possible to defeat Likud Beytenu and replace Netanyahu in the Prime Minister’s Office.
“If 90% of our supporters vote, we can bring about a revolution and replace the Netanyahu government,” Yacimovich said.
Some 3,000 soldiers had cast their ballots at 60 polling stations by Monday, Army Radio reported. Soldiers began voting on Sunday at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv. Hundreds more static and mobile ballot boxes were dispersed to IDF units around Israel to ensure that soldiers cast their votes.
The IDF anticipated that, compared to the general population, voter turnout among soldiers would be higher primarily because of military educational programs on the subject.
Melanie Lidman and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.