Eyewitness: A cold, quiet night at Kadima's primary debut
"There are voices that are too extreme for me in the party, today Kadima is really 50% Labor, 50% Likud."
By ABE SELIG
Outside Kadima's Jerusalem polling station at Teddy Stadium on Wednesday night, the atmosphere was more like a tailgate party than a referendum on the country's ruling party.
A cold winter wind blew its way through a crowd of bundled-up campaign workers, who outnumbered voters as they stood at the entrance to the stadium, hawking leaflets and fliers with their candidates' names and pictures. Others sat on the curb near the parking lot, wearing their candidates' T-shirts as they smoked cigarettes and waited for the polls to close.
"It's been quite slow out here all day," said Mor, a high school student who was working the "crowds," for MK Yoel Hasson.
"But we have no indicators to go by," she continued. "This is, after all, the first real Kadima primary."
Voter turnout barely tipped the 20-percent mark by 6 p.m.
"I think Kadima voters are struggling to rally behind a candidate," said another campaign worker, a man in his late 20s, who seemed numbed by the cold. "Sharon came and went, Olmert came and went, and now we have Livni. It's been less than three years, and we've gone through three different leaders, so I think it's hard for people to feel a close connection."
Nonetheless, as the evening progressed, more and more voters shuffled through the iron gates and into the polling booths. A group of police officers, followed by a group of Egged bus drivers, made their way inside, as a group of hassidim milled around near the parking lot.
"Listen, Kadima is a party that is going to disappear in the next election unless Bibi [Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu] doesn't run," one of the hassidim said. "But I'm not here to vote, I just came here with my friend. He's a Kadima member."
Others said the night was still young and the fate of the party's character still very much in the hands of its members.
"This is a citizen's basic right," said one woman, who refused to give her name. "I came out to vote so that I could do my part, and make sure that Kadima doesn't shift too far to the right, like Likud.
"There are some voices that are too extreme for me within the party, you know - today Kadima is really 50% Labor and 50% Likud."
Asked why she thought voter turnout had been low so far, the woman said she felt there was a sense of complacency among voters who were simply tired of elections or unenthusiastic about the current political climate.
"First of all, we just had a Kadima primary," she said, referring to the election for the party's leadership in September.
"But I think it's also that Labor members feel like they have to save their party from extinction, so they had an incentive to go out and vote. Likud voters apparently felt as though they had to change their party's direction - at least that's what the outcome was. But with Kadima, I think voters are tired, and they didn't have anything prodding them to come out and vote."
By 7 p.m., a larger crowd of voters had gathered and begun making their way in.
"You see?" said one man, a campaign worker for MK Shlomo Molla. "It was quiet here this afternoon, but now it's starting to pick up."
As he was talking, Tourism Minister Ruhama Avraham-Balila approached the station with an entourage of security and photographers.
"You're doing good work out here," she said to the campaign workers. "Keep it up."
But moments later, as she was leaving, one worker called out, "Ruhama, don't go! If you leave, all of the excitement will go with you."
Others agreed, but said there hadn't been much excitement to begin with.
"This is a boring primary," said Boaz, an elderly man who had come to cast his vote. "[Kadima] doesn't have a lot of experience, but it's still important to come out to vote. What kind of party member would I be if I didn't even use my vote?"
Still, former Rishon Lezion mayor Meir Nitzan, who ran in the primaries for his first Knesset seat, said the polling stations in and around his city were crowded and that the primaries, from his point of view, were far from boring.
"I'm certainly not bored," Nitzan laughed as he spoke with The Jerusalem Post by phone. "I think there's actually a good deal of suspense. We have 75 fantastic candidates to vote for, and from there, I know we're going to go far."
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