Israeli Voters Turn out in Greater Numbers Than Expected in National, Local Elections
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Israeli Voters Turn out in Greater Numbers Than Expected in National, Local Elections

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Israeli voters surprised the forecasters today by turning out at 3,335 polling stations in far greater numbers than anticipated to cast ballots in the seventh Knesset election and in scores of municipal and local contests. By 6 p.m. local time, over 60 percent of the nation’s 1.75 million registered voters had gone to the polls and a turnout of 80 percent or more was expected by the time the polls were to close at 11 p.m.

Another surprise was the unexpectedly heavy turnout of East Jerusalem Arabs who were eligible to vote only in the municipal election. Out of some 32,000 registered, an estimated 10,000 had voted by 7 p.m. local time and hundreds of Arabs formed long, noisy queues outside polling stations set up on the former boundaries between East and West Jerusalem. The Arab voter turnout in Jerusalem was up to six times as large as in the Jewish areas of the city.

Party functionaries, who were concerned over voter apathy and predicted a low turnout, conceded that they had misread the generally poor attendance at election rallies during the weeks of campaigning. They said that they had failed to take into consideration the advent of the television age in Israel which, for the first time, enabled politicians to reach voters in their homes.

While most Israelis refrained from predicting the election outcome until the ballots were counted, members of the foreign diplomatic corps had no such inhibitions, JTA Jerusalem correspondent Amos Ben Vered reported. Most of them gave the Labor Party-Mapam alignment 57-59 seats in the new Knesset, somewhat less than the 63 seats (an absolute majority) they now occupy. The consensus among the diplomats was that the Gahal (Herut-Liberal alignment) would gain three or four seats over the 22 they now hold. The State List, headed by former Premier David Ben Gurion. was rated to take three or four seats, according to diplomatic observers.

The election proceeded without incident except for scattered technical difficulties. When the Jerusalem district election committee ordered extra polling booths open at 6:30 p.m. to accommodate the heavy Arab voting, it was hard to find personnel to man them. The first polling station to close was one provided for a Bedouin tribe in the Negev. All of its members had cast their ballots by noon.

Israeli authorities took stringent measures to protect voters from possible Arab terrorist attacks. The borders between Israel and the occupied territories were closed to traffic in both directions throughout the day. For the first time since the June, 1967 war, bullet-proof and fire-proof election booths were installed in some border areas. Soldiers on the front lines began voting yesterday as a precaution lest an outbreak of fighting today might deprive them of their franchise. Mobile voting booths were provided. One came under Egyptian shell fire in the Suez Canal zone yesterday. The voters took cover until the shelling ended.

Israelis voting today were selecting candidates for 120 Knesset seats from 16 party lists. They are also voting for municipal officials and town councils in 130 localities including 28 municipalities.

Israel’s Supreme Court ruled yesterday that suspected terrorists under detention could not vote. The court rejected an application for an order nisi against the police which had been requested on behalf of 32 Israeli Arabs, members of the Moscow-oriented New Communist Party.

The 32 are suspected of terrorist acts. Their lawyer, Mrs. Felicia Langer, proposed that they be escorted to polling booths by police in order to participate in the municipal and national elections. The court said that such permission would discriminate against other detainees awaiting trial or under administrative detention. It also observed that police were not permitted to enter the polling stations and therefore security could not be fully enforced if the suspects were allowed to vote.

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