Tzipi Livni and Shaul Mofaz Face Off in Kadima Leadership Primary

Either Mofaz's supporters will deliver the goods, or party independents will turned up en masse at polling stations ensuring Livni continues in her current role.

The moment of truth has come for Kadima. On Tuesday morning at 10 A.M. around 200 polling stations opened across the country and 95,000 party members went to choose Kadima's leader for the next national elections. The primaries pit the party's chairperson for the past three and a half years, Tzipi Livni, against MK Shaul Mofaz, and the contest could be decided by a razor-thin margin.

The moral of the primaries' story will become clear only after results are announced early Wednesday morning: either Mofaz's supporters will have delivered the goods, or party independents will have turned up en masse at the polling stations to ensure that Livni continues in her current role.

Mofaz and Livni face off.

"We've reached the moment of truth," Mofaz declared on Monday. "I feel confident, but we can't be apathetic. I hear the forecasts about a low turnout at the polls, and I call upon all party members - come and vote! Come take part in the process of change; this must happen on Tuesday because we won't have another chance."

In a recorded message, Livni called on party members to support her: "This is a struggle for all of us - Israelis, Zionists who want to live and raise our children in an advanced, free country. Should we let despair and apathy keep us at home, we are liable to wake up in the morning and find a leader who doesn't really represent and doesn't really promise a change from Netanyahu."

Basing an estimate on past experiences with primaries, Kadima can expect 40%-50% voter turnout on Tuesday. Insiders believe that a low turnout will help Mofaz, whereas Livni has a fighting chance should turnout approach 50%.

Since rain is forecast for various areas Tuesday, the weather could discourage party regulars from turning up at polling stations. Nor will the railway strike help.

Shaul Mofaz voting in the Kadima primary, March 27, 2012.
Tomer Appelbaum

Kadima voters are registered to vote close to their homes, but the railroad strike could disrupt daily schedules and minimize the amount of free time party members have to vote.

In recent days, the candidates and MKs in their camps have been canvassing intensely, trying to sway wavering party members. Livni has camped and worked the phones in her Tel Aviv headquarters, whereas Mofaz has done the same from an office in Yehud.

MKs and party activists have used long lists of party members, and taken notes next to each name - they have noted whether a given person intends to turn up to vote, or needs a ride, or needs additional coaxing.

Both the Livni and Mofaz camps believe the canvassing has gone well, but it's quite possible that a fair share of the party members tell the politicians on the phone what they believe the callers want to hear.

One MK mentioned that party members sometimes take advantage of the opportunity to bring up requests. "Somebody just asked me to fix him up with a job in the future. I told him I can't make any promises. Half an hour ago, a pensioner told me he lives on national insurance payments, and has trouble making ends meet - he asked us to help him. In the non-Jewish sector, this phenomenon is more widespread," the MK said.

Beyond the specific question of whether Livni or Mofaz will take the reins, there looms the larger issue of the party's future. Will Kadima remain united, or divide into two camps? Or will the loser simply quit the party?

Mofaz has announced he plans to remain in Kadima no matter what happens, but Livni has refrained from making such a promise. Persons close to her say she hasn't discussed the possibility of a loss; and at this stage they aren't asking about such a scenario. When asked by journalists what would happen should she lose the primary balloting, Livni refused to respond. Insiders, however, speculate that she would not remain in a Kadima party led by Mofaz, but would remain in politics.