The Kadima Party on Wednesday decided to extend the voting in its primary election by 30 minutes, after party leadership frontrunner Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, having voiced disappointment with the relative low voter turnout, asked to keep the polls open an extra hour.
Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, Livni's main rival in the primary, appealed Livni's request, and ultimately the voting was extended by 30 minutes, to close at 10:30 P.M.
Kadima Party member Otniel Schneller, who supports Livni, said the reason for Livni's request was overcrowding at the polling stations.
Analysts say Livni's chances depend on a high voter turnout, whereas low turnout would boost Mofaz's chances to win.
Earlier Wednesday, Livni cast her ballot at a voting station in Tel Aviv, and called on supporters to vote and help "determine the image of Kadima, and show if you are truly sick of the same old politics."
"I am calling on you to go and vote your heart, and not what someone told you to," the Foreign Minister said.
Livni visited her campaign phone hotline headquarters in Rishon Letzion later Wednesday and was briefed on the voter turnout. "The voter turnout is disappointing and people have to continue coming and voting," Livni said upon learning of the low percentage of registered voters who had turned out.
Four hours before the polls were scheduled to close, at the new time of 10:30 P.M., the voter turnout was at 30 percent.
Livni also criticized her opponent Mofaz, who she hinted has spent the last few weeks of the campaign seeking the support of large voting blocks, specifically workers' groups.
Whoever wins the primary will be the third person to chair the party since it was founded by Olmert's predecessor Ariel Sharon three years ago.
Mofaz cast his vote at the National Labor Federation headquarters in Kfar Saba, where he said he "feels excellent. I believe the workers will turn out to vote."
Mofaz refused to repeat his previous comments where he projected he would win a solid victory, saying "let's wait for the actual results to come out."
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert voted at a polling station in the Pisgat Ze'ev neighborhood of Jerusalem. When he was asked which candidate he voted for, the premier replied that it was "a good vote." Olmert urged Kadima voters "to come vote, and for [the primary] to be a success."
When asked when he intended to resign his post, Olmert smiled at reporters before commenting, "We shall see." At the polling station where Olmert voted, no pictures of him were posted, though there were photos of his predecessor, Ariel Sharon.
Livni and Mofaz are among four high-profile politicians leading the race, with Livni and Mofaz polling way ahead of fellow candidates Public Security Minister Avi Dichter and Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit.
Front-runners Livni and Mofaz are each hoping to obtain a decisive 40-percent share of the vote in the first round.
"Today we can start to make the change that Israel needs in order to once again be what it should be, what it can be," Livni told Israeli Army Radio Wednesday morning. "I know what this country needs...to continue the process that will allow us to determine the borders of the state of Israel with security."
Kadima has 73,000 members eligible to vote in the primaries, an estimated 50 percent of whom are expected to exercise that right.
A poll conducted Monday by Haaretz-Dialog and Channel 10 had Livni taking 47 percent of the vote and Mofaz 28 percent, while Sheetrit and Dichter each received 6 percent.
Both Dichter and Sheetrit are hoping to win enough support to force a second round of voting.
If any of the candidates receives the necessary number of votes in Wednesday's round, Olmert is expected to file his resignation with President Shimon Peres before the beginning of next week.
Olmert's replacement will then reach out to the various Knesset coalitions and opposition representatives in an effort to form an alternative government. If such efforts fail, national elections will be held, most likely in March 2009.
Despite Livni's comfortable lead in the polls, Mofaz continued to exhibit confidence Tuesday. While Livni gave a number of interviews throughout the day, Mofaz barely communicated with the media. He spent much of the day in the north of the country, the stronghold of his support, meeting with senior party activists and local government heads.
At his campaign headquarters in Givatayim, staffers watched the satirical program "A Wonderful Country" lampoon Mofaz as a humorless macho man.
Mofaz said that despite the exhausting schedule, he is taking the primaries in stride. "Despite everything that's being printed in the media, I believe we'll have good results. There is a huge gap between the way we feel on the ground and the impression given by all kinds of reports and polls," he said.
"I'm a people person. I've met with thousands of people across the country, and I believe that will translate into support," Mofaz continued. Should he be elected, he said, his first step will be to meet with the various factions and lead Kadima as it "embarks on a new path."
Livni told reporters Tuesday that should she win, she would make sure Mofaz was given an appropriate position in the new government. "We will also make sure she's given a suitable position," Mofaz said.
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