Former prime minister Ehud Barak and MK Ami Ayalon will face off in a June 12 runoff race to determine who will become Labor Party leader, according to the final count of votes announced Tuesday morning. As counting the last votes finished, Barak led with 35.6 percent of the vote, followed by Ayalon with 30.6%, Defense Minister Amir Peretz with 22.4%, MK Ophir Paz-Pines 8% and MK Danny Yatom 2.7%. The 2007 Labor primaries carved their niche in the party history by being the first time when a second round of voting to decide the party leader would be necessary. Overall, 67,454 Labor members out of a total of 103,568 registered members went to the polling stations.
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Earlier, Monday night, Barak looked set to defeat Ayalon by some 1,500 votes overall, according to Labor sources, but neither candidate appeared to have received the 40% of the vote necessary to win Labor's primary outright and avoid a runoff.
Ami Ayalon said that Barak won because of votes from the Arab sector."The Arabs elected Barak," he said.
Earlier, an aide to Ayalon said that if the results would be found to be extremely close, the Ayalon camp would demand an investigation into the polling stations in Arab communities.
Peretz will play a significant role in deciding who will win the runoff. Sources close to Peretz said that although it was unlikely he would support Barak, he would entertain offers from both Barak and Ayalon regarding what portfolio he would receive. They said the more votes he won in the race, the higher his asking price would be.
"In politics anything can happen," a Peretz associate said. "Ehud Barak is not so repulsive that we cannot support him."
Ayalon's and Barak's campaigns expressed faint optimism that final results would yet crown their candidate the winner without a runoff.
Polls broadcast on Channels 1 and 2 earlier Monday night had predicted opposite results.
A Dialogue poll conducted by Tel Aviv University Prof. Camille Fuchs for Channel 1 found that Barak won with 38%, followed by Ayalon with 36%, Peretz 17%, MK Ophir Paz-Pines 7% and MK Danny Yatom 2%.
According to a Ma'agar Muhot poll conducted for Channel 2 by Prof. Yitzhak Katz, who accurately predicted Peretz's victory in the last race, Ayalon won with 39%, followed by Barak with 33%, Peretz 19%, Paz-Pines 6% and Yatom 3%.
Barak's campaign staff applauded when the Channel 1 poll results were announced. Paz-Pines expressed disappointment with the results.
After the polls were broadcast, a source close to Ayalon said any result would be an accomplishment because the entire party establishment and every Labor MK except Avishay Braverman worked against Ayalon.
According to preliminary results, Barak won the moshavim and Druse sectors, Ayalon won the kibbutzim and big cities and Peretz won the Arab sector. Most of Peretz's support came from poorer towns.
Surprisingly, Ayalon beat Barak in wealthier communities, while Barak was backed by the middle-class.
Barak won in Kiryat Shmona, Dimona, Acre, Beersheba, Holon and most Arab and Druse towns.
Ayalon won in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Ness Ziona, Hod Hasharon and the kibbutzim Shefayim, Deganya and Ma'agan, his birthplace.
Peretz won in Lod, Sakhnin, Ashkelon, Eilat, Safed, Bat Yam, Kiryat Gat; Paz-Pines won in Nesher, Arara, Ma'aleh HaChamisha, Ramat Rachel and surprisingly, Ma'ale Adumim.
Some 65% of Labor's 103,498 members voted, which was higher than expected.
Turnout was especially high in Labor's largest sector, the kibbutzim.
Ayalon only defeated Barak by some 4% in the kibbutzim after Barak worked very hard in the sector.
Polling stations in Sderot remained open an extra hour, but observers there said they remained relatively empty all day. Residents of Sderot and other communities surrounding the Gaza Strip were permitted to vote in polling stations throughout the country.
Although campaigns reported irregularities in the Arab and Druse sectors, party officials said no complaints were reported to Labor's central elections committee. The most serious incident occurred in Taibe, where Barak supporters briefly took over a polling station. Order was restored after police were brought to the scene.
A source close to Ayalon said that if the final results were especially close, he would appeal the results in several Arab towns to the central elections committee.
"This was the cleanest and most organized election in the history of the party," Labor secretary-general Eitan Cabel said. "But we have to wait until the morning for the official results from every polling station before we can really know for sure who should be celebrating."
Sources close to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he was prepared to work with whoever wins. They said Olmert's working assumption was that both Barak and Ayalon would keep Labor in the coalition under his leadership, despite campaign promises to the contrary.
But officials in the Barak and Ayalon campaigns said their candidate would not join the government unless Kadima toppled Olmert.
A source close to Ayalon said he would take Labor out of the government immediately and support it from outside the coalition until Olmert left the Prime Minister's Office.
Official spokespeople for both candidates said it was too early for such speculation. Kadima MKs in favor of toppling Olmert said they were pessimistic that either Barak or Ayalon would take steps to depose the prime minister, but they had more hope for Ayalon.
"Ayalon would face the knives of the Labor ministers if he tries to topple Olmert," a Kadima MK who opposes the prime minister said. "That's why I am not optimistic."
Tovah Lazaroff, Sheera Claire Frenkel and Rebecca Anna Stoil contributed to this report.