Labor Party members set off for the polls across the country on Tuesday to choose between former prime minister Ehud Barak and MK Ami Ayalon to elect the party's sixth leader in eight years. By 11:00 a.m., 8.5 percent of Labor's 103,498 members cast their votes at stations throughout the country. The stations will close at 9 p.m. with results not expected until 1 a.m. All three television networks will air exit polls at 9 p.m. predicting the winner. Most polls show Ayalon and Barak running neck and neck. A Smith Research poll published on the Web site of the business daily Globes on Monday night found that Ayalon led Barak 51.5 percent to 48.5%. A Gal Hadash poll broadcast on Channel 10 Monday night predicted that Barak would beat Ayalon by 7%, 46% to 39% with 7% undecided and 8% who refused to answer.
Analysis: This race is about logistics, not ideology
The Channel 10 poll found that Ayalon's partnership with Defense Minister Amir Peretz scared away voters on kibbutzim. Ayalon won the sector in the first round of voting, 45% to 41%, but the poll predicted that Barak would win the second round on kibbutzim by a wide margin, 50%-34%.
Ayalon's associates reacted angrily to the poll, saying that his downfall in the kibbutzim was caused by lies from the Barak camp. A source close to Ayalon said an MK who backs Barak called kibbutz members and told them that Peretz would become finance minister if Ayalon won the race.
"They are using scare tactics in kibbutzim and other unethical moves, but this just proves how important it is for us to win and change the country," an Ayalon associate said.
Barak's spokesmen expressed satisfaction with the Channel 10 poll and said their campaign's polls, taken by Barak's brother, Avinoam Brog, of the Marketwatch firm, had similar results.
Both candidates spent the day calling supporters from their campaign offices. Barak received a call of encouragement on Monday from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
As soon as the election is over, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert intends to meet with the winner and decide who should fill cabinet vacancies in the Defense Ministry, Finance Ministry, the Ministry-without-Portfolio in charge of the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Ministry of Negev and Galilee Development if Peres is elected president.
Olmert's associates denied reports that he had decided to give Barak the Defense portfolio if he won the race and Ayalon's ally, MK Avishay Braverman, the Finance portfolio if Ayalon would win. They said Olmert advisers Israel Maimon and Ovad Yehezkel would handle talks with whoever wins the race.
"We have gone out of our way to avoid interfering in the race and we are not about to start now," an Olmert associate said. "We haven't made any appointments while we waited for the Labor race to end. We will start consultations on Thursday in an effort to make all the changes by the time the prime minister comes back from Washington later in the month. Everything that has been printed is spin."