Early indications in Labor's leadership primary last night showed three of the four candidates running neck and neck - Isaac Herzog, Shelly Yachimovich and Amir Peretz, each claiming a third of the votes. Final results were expected only after press time.
If none of the candidates achieves 40 percent of the vote, a second round will be held next Wednesday.
Yesterday's turnout was about 65 percent. Some 44,000 of the 66,000 registered party members came to cast their ballot. Sixty-two percent of the party's members voted in the Druze community and 61 percent in the Arab community, while it was 65 percent in the kibbutzim. Although the turnout is high, party leaders had hoped it would be higher.
Amram Mitzna crashed. Even in the polling station in Yeruham, a town he headed in recent years, he was defeated by Amir Peretz 46 to 34.
The election campaign was marred by minor disorders, but by last night only a few complaints had been made about suspected forgeries.
The elections' big surprise is, most probably, Isaac Herzog. Even if he doesn't win, ultimately, he has already managed to mobilize impressive support, despite the opinion polls that predicted his downfall.
"I will be the surprise of these elections," he said yesterday.
Businessman Erel Margalit also predicted yesterday that if they could get all their supporters to the polls, Herzog could go on to the second round.
Activists in the various campaign staffs reported alleged forgeries in two polling stations in the Arab community (see separate story ) and a series of attempts to sabotage the elections.
The candidates' timetable was crowded. Three of them - Yachimovich, Peretz and Mitzna - rushed to vote as soon as the polling stations opened at 10 A.M.
"This is a day of dramatic consequences. In the Labor Party a window has opened, an opportunity to connect with the public. It must not be missed," said Yachimovich, calling on Herzog and Mitzna's supporters to vote for herself or Peretz, in a bid to reach a decisive result in the first round.
Peretz concentrated his efforts in polling stations in the periphery and the south. His supporters said that in many of these stations, none of the other candidates were to be seen. At midday, Peretz had lunch with his activists in Yeruham.
"It's amazing to see how every time we reach places identified with the right, there is so much grumbling against Netanyahu. The minimum I expect for Labor is 19 Knesset seats," Peretz said.
At a certain stage, activists in Herzog's campaign staff decided to fight for Mitzna's votes in the Haifa area - the former mayor's bastion. They were encouraged by the figures they received throughout the day, indicating that Herzog's support in the south, center and Jerusalem was higher than the general voting percentage.
"I can move walls and oceans and work with everyone. In the past week I've grown stronger in the field, many floating votes passed from Mitzna to me. I'm the only one who can unite the party," Herzog said.
"Anyone who thinks his victory is assured is depending on groundless speculations, spin and polls. Everything is possible," Herzog said yesterday morning.
Mitzna said: "I won't leave Labor, but how involved I will be depends on who is elected party leader."
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