Shelly Yachimovich was elected as the new leader of Israel’s Labor Party on Wednesday, following a close race against runner-up Amir Peretz.

Yachimovich, the second woman to take on the role in the history of the Labor Party after former Prime Minister Golda Meir, was in the lead by 3,100 votes after 167 of the 171 ballot boxes had been counted, winning 54% of the vote - a total of 22,299 votes, by the final count.

"This is a new window of opportunity to raise up the Labor Party," Yachimovich said in reponse.

Peretz, who won 45% of the vote - a total of 18,769 votes - congratulated Yachimovich in a phone call saying, "I wish you success, and hope that there is collaboration so that we can deal with all the issues that are important to the state of Israel." 

About 61 percent of eligible Labor Party members turned out to vote for a new party leader, in an election pitting Peretz, a former leader of the party and former chairman of the Histadrut labor federation, against former journalist Yachimovich. The pair survived a first round of voting that knocked two other candidates, Isaac Herzog and Amram Mitzna, out of the running.

The candidates acknowledged earlier on Wednesday that the race was close. Yachimovich was expected to draw strong support from the kibbutzim and large cities, where turnout was relatively high. As the day wore on, however, turnout also picked up from Arab communities and the south of the country, where Peretz is thought to have a strong base of support, although turnout from Arab members did decline compared to the first round.

Unlike last week’s first round, in which there were almost no complaints about election irregularities, Wednesday was more tense, with mutual recriminations between the two campaigns that even degenerated into a physical confrontation at a polling station in Tel Aviv while Yachimovich was casting her vote there.