The Elections in Israel: Labor Has Three-seat Lead in Initial Exit Poll Results

An exit poll taken at 35 locations at which 94 percent of the voters responded late tonight indicated that the Labor Party will have 46 seats in the next Knesset to 43 for Likud.

The computerized first results of today’s elections, broadcast on television 20 minutes after the polls closed at 10 p.m. local time, came as a severe disappointment and letdown for Labor. For Likud there was tremendous relief that a major defeat was avoided.

A second, broader exit poll to be conducted at 200 locations at midnight is not expected to show results much different from the early poll, according to Hanoch Smith who conducted the poll for Israel television. Smith said it was possible, when the final votes are tallied, that the gap between Labor and Likud may widen, but not by more than 1-2 Knesset seats.

Smith correctly predicted the outcome of the 1977 elections which first brought Likud to power and was not far off in forecasting the close results of the 1981 elections, although he declared Labor the winner, an outcome reversed when the final vote was counted.

DIFFICULTY IN FORMING A COALITION GOVERNMENT

The narrow three-seat margin between the two largest parties will make it difficult if not impossible for either to form a stable coalition government. Labor and Likud each turned in a poorer performance than in the 1981 elections when Labor won 47 seats to Likud’s 46.

The beneficiaries, apparently were the smaller parties, several of which, according to the exit poll, did better than expected.

There was gloom at Labor Party headquarters where campaign manager Mordechai Gur said he was sure that these results were not the last word and that the situation would improve for Labor as the votes were counted.

At Likud headquarters, Deputy Premier David Levy said he was optimistic that Likud could form the next government. He said the party would begin this very night to contact possible coalition partners among the smaller parties.

NATIONAL UNITY REGIME POSSIBLE

Independent observers, looking at the first results, agreed that both Labor and Likud could very well be stymied and that a Labor-Likud national unity regime loomed increasingly as an option.

According to these observers, Labor, plus its two “natural” allies, Shinui and the Civil Rights Movement (CRM) with a combined total of seven seats — according to the first exit poll — could manage a coalition of 53 Knesset mandates, well short of a majority. Likud, with its “natural” ally, the rightwing Tehiya Party, could muster only 46 mandates between them.

For a Knesset majority, either of the major parties would have to rely on the 13 mandates culled by the various religious parties plus the two of former Defense Minister Ezer Weizman’s Yahad party.

Premier Yitzhak Shamir told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in an interview last week that “it is completely unlikely” that Likud would admit Rabbi Meir Kahane’s extremist Kach party to a coalition under any circumstances. According to the exit poll, Kach won a single Knesset seat after being shut out in the last two previous elections.

A possibility remained that two tiny factions, one headed by leftwing peace advocate Arye Eliav and the other by former Likud Finance Minister Yigael Hurwitz may reach the one percent threshhold necessary for a Knesset mandate.

EARLY TALLY OF KNESSET SEATS

Following is the tally of Knesset seats according to tonight’s first exit poll, compared to the 1981 results.

Party – 1984, 1981

Labor – 46 seats, 47

Likud – 43, 46

National Religious Party – 5, 6

Shinui – 4, 2

Civil Rights Movement – 3, 1

Hadash Communists – 4, 4

Tehiya – 3, 3

Shas – 3, 0

Aguda Israel – 2, 4

Morasha – 2, 0

Yahad – 2, 0

Tami – 1, 3

Kach – 1, 0

Progressive – 1, 0

Shas is a new religious party, sponsored by former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Morasha is also a new religious party consisting of NRP, Emunim and Poale Aguda defectors. Yahad is also a new party and considering its high profile campaign, performed poorly. The Progressive List for Peace, a coalition of Israeli Arab nationalists and leftwing Jews was also making its first Knesset race.

Israelis went to the polls in a process as orderly, uneventful and devoid of incident as the three-month election campaign which ended yesterday. But while voters and political observers alike agreed that the campaign was the most apathetic, uninspired and downright boring in recent memory, the voter turnout was high and by American standards, remarkable.

It was estimated that about 78 percent of the 2.6 million eligible voters cast ballots by the time the polls closed. This was about the same as in the 1981 Knesset elections which followed the most boisterous, bitterly fought and emotional campaign in Israel’s history.

The estimate of today voting is based on figures released by the Central Bureau of Statistics which showed that in the first II hours of voting, 55.2 percent of the eligible voters went to the polls. This is about the same as in the same period on election day, 1981. The Jewish turnout was 56.1 percent and in the Arab sector 45.9 percent of those eligible voted.

The main campaign issues were the economy, the the war in Lebanon, and Likud’s drive to build more settlements in the West Bank.

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