Yacimovich-Herzog Labor party contest goes down to the wire

Low turnout of 52.73 percent seen by Labor insiders as sign that result of primary may be very close; close race could mean another primary.

MK Isaac Herzog 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
MK Isaac Herzog 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
The votes in the Labor Party leadership race were due to be counted early Friday morning to reveal whether opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich or her challenger, MK Isaac Herzog, will head the party.
Labor secretary-general Hilik Bar said that if the race was close, a victor may not be declared until 5am. The winner was expected to come to Tel Aviv's Beit Sokolow to deliver a victory speech after the loser conceded.
The low turnout of only 52.73 percent of the 55,113 Labor members eligible to vote in the race, compared to 66% who voted in the 2011 primary, was seen by Labor insiders as a sign that the result of the primary may have been very close. In such a scenario, both campaigns said there may have to be another Labor primary ahead of the next general election to decide the party's candidate for prime minister.
When Yacimovich initiated the race in July, she told The Jerusalem Post that she would not rule out holding another race. At the time, it looked like former IDF chief of General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi could be a candidate in a later race, but since then, he became more embroiled in the Harpaz Affair and his Shemen company failed to find oil shale in the Mediterranean Sea.
Even without Ashkenazi, there could be another leadership race between Yacimovich and Herzog, especially if the next general election is close to its set date of November 7, 2017.
Yacimovich warned her supporters on Thursday that the turnout was less than in previous Labor primaries. She texted her backers, urging them to talk to their friends and family members who had not voted yet to make sure they come to the polls.
"Low numbers do not work in our favor, I'm saying honestly," she said. "A low turnout is not good for democracy and not good for our independent ideological voters. It is good for the big money and the organized voting groups."
Yacimovich's associates have warned that Herzog could take advantage of his having raised three times as much money as her for the race. They said he could use the funding to finance transportation to bring to the polls sectors in which he has an advantage, such as Arabs, Druse, and the South.
Herzog expressed optimism on a visit to the polling station at Beit Sokolow Thursday morning. He thanked his volunteers, saying "Your energy will bring us victory tonight."
The campaign of Herzog was very organized. Every time one of his supporters came to vote, his headquarters received a text message.
"This battle is very close, and it's no cliche," Herzog's spokesman Eyal Shviki said. "The race will be decided in the periphery. Voters in the South, North, the Arab sector and the Druse will make all the difference. We just need to reach every last voter and I believe wholeheartedly that we can do it."
Shviki released a statement late Thursday night saying that the numbers his campaign received indicated that there were indeed reasons for optimism. He expressed hope that the vote would be counted fairly.
Australian-born Labor activist Guy Spigelman, who volunteered for Herzog at the Beit Sokolow polling station, said the election would make a very big difference for the party.
"If she wins, nothing will change for the next two years but if Herzog is elected, it will be a serious change and the opposition will be much more effective," Spigelman said. "He is taken seriously globally on affairs of state. His views also are in line with American Jewry about religious pluralism and other key issues. He would be received far better by the Jewish world."
At a polling station at Jerusalem's Agron Guest House, voters trickled in slowly to the building named after former Jerusalem Post editor Gershon Agron. When an undecided voter came, supporters of Yacimovich and Herzog bickered over which candidate would be better on socioeconomic issues to try to win her over.
Itzik Kushel of Jerusalem's working class Nachlaot neighborhood said he was supporting Yacimovich because of her socioeconomic and diplomatic ideology and what she has done for the party since she took it over in September 2011.
"It is important to continue revitalizing the party," Kushel said. "She has gotten stronger on diplomatic issues and she can provide a real alternative to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. I am worried that if Shelly loses, the party will go back to its dark days."