Shelly Yachimovich - Daniel Bar-On - 12092011
Shelly Yachimovich Photo by Daniel Bar-On
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Alon Ron
Isaac Herzog Photo by Alon Ron
Moti Milrod
Amir Peretz Photo by Moti Milrod
Hagai Frid
Amram Mitzna Photo by Hagai Frid

Some 66,000 Labor party members go to the polls Monday to choose the next party leader from among four contenders: Isaac Herzog, Amram Mitzna, Amir Peretz and Shelly Yachimovich.

To a large extent, the voters are being asked to decide what they want their party to look like in the coming years: Do they prefer a niche party that is more likely to end up in the opposition in the next Knesset? Or do they want a party that will make an effort to seek national leadership?

The voters will also determine whether Labor will make social issues its primary priority, or whether the party will continue to wave the diplomatic-security flag as well.

The results of this election are also expected to have ramifications for the overall political arena. If Yachimovich emerges victorious, for example, Labor will likely siphon off mandates from Kadima in the next elections. A Yachimovich victory is also likely to maneuver Kadima into pursuing voters on the center-right, and could make it difficult for Tzipi Livni to retain the Kadima leadership.

A Peretz victory, on the other hand, is seen as having the potential to reduce the Likud's electoral strength because of his power bases in the outlying areas. A Peretz victory would also advance the possibility that Labor and Meretz could run jointly in the next elections.

The final results are expected to be announced at 1 A.M. Tuesday at the party's headquarters at Beit Berl. If no candidate gets at least 40 percent of the vote, the top two candidates will face each other in a run-off election next Wednesday.

Voter surveys to date have shown that the race is primarily between Yachimovich and Peretz, with Yachimovich holding a decisive advantage. But the difficulty in obtaining a representative sample from Labor's voting rolls has led each of the candidates to believe that they can get enough votes to win, or at least to advance to a second round.

The outcome of the vote may well be determined by the voter turnout, and how well the different staffs manage the logistics of getting their voters to the polling stations.

A high turnout is believed to favor Mitzna and Yachimovich, both of whom seem to be favored by floating, unaffiliated voters. Such voters are relatively harder to bring to the polls, so a high turnout would indicate that they had indeed made the effort to vote.

A lower turnout, by contrast, would favor the more organized candidates, Peretz and Herzog. These two also have more support from voting blocs, including unionized workers, Arab voters and kibbutz members, all of whom are easier to bring to the polls en masse.

Both Peretz and Yachimovich believe the contest will be decided Monday. If there is a second round, however, party sources believe the outcome is almost certain, since the two others are seen likely to throw their support behind Yachimovich.

All four candidates were busy Sunday organizing for Monday's vote.

"We're in excellent shape," said Yachimovich, who held a final briefing for her key campaign officials at her headquarters in Tel Aviv's Dizengoff Center. "Out in the field we are incredibly ready.

"But there's a big 'but': Complacence is our most dangerous enemy," she added. "You don't get votes from polls, but from slips in the ballot box. Amir knows how to work and he's a tough rival."

Peretz, meanwhile, said that despite the polls, his victory was assured.

"We are prepared to transport 25,000-30,000 voters to the polls," he said. "We have staffs in 150 communities. Some 3,000 volunteers will be working on this election. There's a victorious feeling in the air."

Both Herzog's and Mitzna's staffs reported an "erosion" of votes in their direction.

"We expect a close race," said Herzog. "It won't be decided in the first round."

Mitzna also insisted there would be a run-off, "and I'll be moving into the second round."