MK Isaac Herzog won the No. 2 spot and Ophir Pines-Paz captured the third slot in the Labor Party primary held on Thursday, the party announced Friday morning. Labor officials were satisfied at the high voter turnout as faction members went to the polls to choose their final list for the 18th Knesset.
After the results were announced, Labor Party Chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak - whose own spot was not up for negotiation in this poll - told cheering faction members: "Today, Labor has a winning party, the best party."
Labor's leaders had pinned their hopes on an attractive Knesset list. The polls predict no more than 10 Knesset seats, which turned the campaign into a survival battle among the MKs.
MKs Avishay Braverman, Shelly Yachimovich and Matan Vilnai were chosen for the next three spots on the list.
MK Eitan Cabel, who did not run in the election, maintained his place at No. 7, and Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer won the No. 8 spot. Behind them at No. 9 was Education Minister Yuli Tamir, followed closely by former party chairman Amir Peretz.
Former Haaretz correspondent Daniel Ben-Simon also secured a relatively high seat on the party's list, coming in at No. 11.
The primary elections attracted an unexpectedly high turnout of around 58 percent, according to returns late Thursday night. Counting continued through the night, with final results announced at 8 A.M. on Friday.
Voting for seats on the party's Knesset list had been postponed for two days following a computer breakdown, and voters cast their votes manually rather than electronically.
A defiant Barak nevertheless told party members and activists Friday morning that Labor had formed a "winning team."
"When you look to your right and to your left, with all the hitchhikers you see in Kadima and the Likud, the Labor Party has the best team," he said in remarks broadcast live on Israel Radio.
His remark hinted that high-profile public figures were joining Kadima and the Likud for opportunistic reasons. The centrist ruling party and the hardline opposition party are leading in opinion polls, running a neck-to-neck race.
"The party which continues the paths of (former premiers David) Ben Gurion, (Levy) Eshkol and (Yitzhak) Rabin," Barak insisted, had the "best record" and largest number of experienced lawmakers and politicians.
"If that is in store for us, we will lead the Opposition of the State of Israel with strength and determination," he vowed, but added he was entering the elections with the aim of leading the country's political center.
The 66-year-old former premier and army chief of staff conceded that he had been told he comes across as "not sympathetic," "not trendy" and "not caring," but added running a state was "not a game."
"Together we will win," he said.
Labor seeks to bring 'home' votes lost to Kadima
Immediately after forming its Knesset list, Labor is set to kick-start its election campaign, which will attack Kadima in an effort to bring "home" votes it has lost to that party.
Labor leaders, who had feared that the system crash on Tuesday coupled with the party's dire standing in public opinion polls would keep party members away from the polling stations, heaved a sigh of relief Thursday at the sight of long lines outside the ballots.
Barak, who was busy during the day with the evacuation of the House of Contention in Hebron, went to vote at noon on Thursday with his wife Nili Priel.
Barak said he was optimistic about the party's ability to emerge from the crisis. "The fact that we're standing in line to vote 48 hours after [Tuesday's events] means there's life in the party," he said.
Labor is now preparing its opening shot in the election campaign, intended mainly to bring back the votes it has lost to Kadima. These votes are estimated to be worth about seven Knesset seats.
Labor is planning to paint Kadima, its main rival, as a "political refugee camp." Its campaign will say that Kadima has a clearly right-wing section led by Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, which will join the Likud after the elections. Therefore voting for Kadima is tantamount to voting for the Likud.
Kadima chairman Tzipi Livni will be shown as inept as a leader and stateswoman, compared to Labor leader Barak.
Labor has decided not to attack Meretz and the new left-wing party so as not to harm the left bloc, and because polls show it has only lost one Knesset seat to Meretz. The campaign will also try to neutralize Barak's image problems, conveying the message that Barak is not a buddy but a leader.
Minister Ben-Eliezer, who renounced his reserved sixth slot on the Knesset list, conducted a lightening campaign. He sounded confident on Thursday and said the party could garner 25 Knesset seats in the upcoming general elections. "The most important thing is that Labor pursues a new path from today, a path that will end in 25 Knesset seats, after we present the best list," he said.
MK Yachimovich cast her vote on Tel Aviv's Zamenhoff Street, where she called on the Labor leaders to save their party. "Precisely because of the tough crisis, the crowds came to the polling stations and voted for a strong and principled list that can handle the battle to save the party and make it succeed," she said.
When Labor first tried to hold its primary this week, it proudly touted its pioneering use of a new computer touch-screen voting system. But just three hours into the voting, the system crashed, delaying the primary until yesterday, when party members began choosing candidates for the February 10 election expected to hand Labor a humiliating defeat. This time, voters were using paper ballots.
Labor's list for the 18th Knesset
1. Ehud Barak2. Isaac Herzog - 24,788 votes3. Ophir Pines-Paz - 24,336 votes4. Avishai Braverman - 22,801 votes5. Shelley Yachimovich - 19,650 votes6. Matan Vilnai - 18,494 votes7. Eitan Cabel - slot guaranteed by virtue of his title as party secretary 8. Benjamin Ben-Eliezer - 17,912 votes9. Yuli Tamir - 15,869 votes10. Amir Peretz - 16,881 votes11. Daniel Ben-Simon - 15,338 votes
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