MK Zahava Gal-On won a sweeping victory in Meretz's leadership primary on Tuesday, gaining 61 percent of the vote in a race characterized by an extremely high turnout.
Within an hour after the polls opened at 4 P.M., 20 percent of the party's 954 convention delegates had already voted, and by 7 P.M., the rate had climbed to 60 percent. Ultimately, just shy of 90 percent of the delegates cast their ballots, enabling Gal-On to convincingly laud their energy - meretz in Hebrew - in her victory speech.
Of the 835 ballots cast, she won 506. MK Ilan Gilon won 306, or 37 percent of the vote, while newcomer Ori Ophir won a mere 23. Gal-On will replace current chairman Haim Oron, who stayed on as party leader after resigning from the Knesset last year.
In contrast to the leadership contests in several other parties, the Meretz race was characterized not by hostility among the contenders, but by camaraderie. The three candidates could often be seen standing side by side to greet the delegates who flocked to the Tel Aviv fairgrounds, and their supporters also mingled freely.
Each candidate's activists were easily identifiable by their T-shirts. Gal-On's supporters wore green, which is the party's color. Gilon's backers wore red, which he termed an appropriate color for a socialist party - and if elected, he stressed, he intended to turn the party redder. Ophir's supporters wore white.
Throughout the day, Gal-On voiced confidence that she would win. Gilon declined to publicly estimate his chances, while Ophir, who said he spent no more than a few thousand shekels on his campaign, openly said he did not expect to get more than 50 or 60 votes.
The vote itself was conducted via a new computerized system, but one with a novel feature: The computer spit out a paper confirmation of each electronic vote, and the paper ballots were then counted by hand to confirm the computer's tally. Each of the paper ballots was printed with a computerized code for the chosen candidate, and the codes were posted on a giant screen so that delegates could make sure the computer had indeed registered their vote to the proper candidate.