TEL AVIV (May. 17)
Israelis voted for a new Knesset today in what is probably the most crucial election in their nation’s history and is expected to be the closest. There were long lines outside the polling stations which opened at 7 a.m. local time and will close at 11 p.m. Initial reports from the 17 regional elections committees indicated that the balloting was proceeding smoothly. Officials noted with pride that only four out of 3380 polling stations failed to open on time.
The morning rush was followed by a lull as tens of thousands of Israelis took advantage of the national holiday and headed for beaches and countryside to enjoy the warm, sunny weather. But voting picked up in the afternoon and evening. Schools, shops and businesses were closed. Public transportation and essential services operated normally and restaurants remained open for holiday business. Every effort was made to ensure a large voter turnout. El Al deliberately delayed several flights this morning to allow Israeli passengers to vote before boarding their planes.
PERES, BEIGIN AMONG FIRST VOTERS
The two leading contenders, Shimon Peres, head of the Labor Alignment, and Likud leader Menachem Beigin, were among the first to enter the voting booths this morning. They did so, at least partly, to accommodate the evening newspapers which carried photographs of them as they were about to cast their ballots.
Supreme Court Justice Elijah Manny, chairman of the Central Election Committee, had a busy morning. He voted in Jerusalem early and then hurried to the Presidential residence to escort President Ephraim Katzir to the polling station. He spent the rest of the day at his office supervising the elections.
According to last minute polls, Labor and Likud were running neck-and-neck on election eve, with about a half million of the 2.2 million eligible voters still undecided. The outcome of today’s elections therefore could be crucial to the future of the Labor Party which has headed every Israeli government since 1948.
LAST MINUTE FORAYS
Last night, Peres and Beigin took to the streets to “meet the people” in the time honored manner of politicians the world over. Peres selected Dizengoff Street, Tel Aviv’s main business and recreation thoroughfare. He shook hands, patted children’s heads, tasted falafel and held an ice cream cone. Later he went to north Tel Aviv, a Likud bastion, where he repeated the performance and was very warmly received.
Beigin, who always performs on a higher emotional level than most of his rivals, appeared at the Western Wall in Jerusalem where the population is celebrating the 10th anniversary of the city’s reunification. He was promptly recognized and surrounded by dancing, chanting supporters.
There are 22 factions vying for Knesset seats today. According to the pollsters, no more than 16 will make it. Returns are not expected before midnight. (SEE EARLY UNOFFICIAL RETURNS P.3)