Jerusalem (Jun. 28)
With a leading poll showing Labor to have drawn neck-and-neck with Likud, the Israeli election campaign entered its final stage today in an electric atmosphere of drama and tension. The contending parties made massive last minute efforts to win public support today. By law, electioneering must cease 24 hours before the polling begins.
At the same time, the campaign managers were putting finishing touches to vast logistical plans to go into effect on Tuesday, election day, to ensure that every potential supporter gets to his or her polling station and is able to cast a ballot.
The weekend poll which kindled new hope in the hearts of the Labor Alignment and sent a chill through Likud was conducted by the “Modiin Ezrachi Co.” for the Jerusalem Post and published this morning. It gave Labor and Likud each 42 seats in the next Knesset.
Its significance lay in the fact that the same pollsters gave Likud a 12 seat lead only ten days ago, and had posted Likud as the front runner since late April.
The poll, therefore, seemed to indicate an 11th hour Labor recovery. It was conducted on June 25-26, just before the televised debate between Premier Menachem Begin and Labor Party leader Shimon Peres Thursday night which, it is widely felt, resulted in a Peres victory, and before Labor’s leadership reshuffle which put the popular Yitzhak Rabin in the Defense slot on the party’s putative Cabinet team.
While this move — and especially Peres’ cavalier treatment of Haim Barlev, the previous Defense Minister-designate–angered and offended many people, Laborite activists believe it will result in a net gain of support. Peres succumbed to pressure to make the reshuffle when it was shown to him that secret polls taken for Labor gave it up to five additional seats were Rabin to be included in the “leadership team.”
The other leading opinion poll, conducted by Dr. Mina Zemah, was expected to announce its latest findings tomorrow. Over the weekend she too noted a trend back to Labor, and predicted a neck-and-neck result.
ROLE OF SMALLER PARTIES MAY BE CRUCIAL
It should be noted, however, — and Likud campaign managers are stressing this — that a neck-and-neck result will not suffice for Labor to wrest power from Likud. This is because most of the smaller parities — National Religious Party, Agudat Israel, Telem, Tami and Tehiya — are believed to be inclining towards Likud rather than Labor. Given the choice, they would prefer to form a coalition with Begin once again. That is certainly true of Tehiya and the NRP.
Objective observers say that Labor needs at least 46 to 47 seats to have a chance of forming a government. This might even be a minority government, relying on the passive support by abstention of the pro-Moscow Rakah Communists in votes of confidence. If Labor can draw three to four seats ahead of Likud, observers feel, fence-straddling parties such as Telem headed by former Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, Tami headed by Religious Affairs Minister Aharon Abu Hatzeira, and Aguda would enter into serious coalition negotiations with Labor along with the leftist Shinui, Independent Liberal and Citizens Rights parties.
The Modiin Ezrachi poll was significant in another respect: It showed a ten percent drop in the number of “undecideds” during the past ten days — from 22.5 percent to 12.5 percent. The trend among the undecideds was plainly to move towards Labor when finally making their choice. Labor campaigners say if this trend continues during the crucial pre-election 48 hours, Labor’s chance of emerging victorious and strong enough to form a government will be good.
Whether because of the weekend poll or fatigue, Begin seemed slightly less ebullient and vigorous than usual when he addressed a large election rally in Jerusalem last night. Physically he seemed fit and well, speaking for 90 minutes without any ill effects. But his worry about getting the voters out showed through when he implored the enthusiastic crowd repeatedly: “Don’t just shout — vote … the important thing is to put the right slip in the ballot box Tuesday.”