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The Long Night of Waiting

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For leaders, officials and volunteer workers of all the political parties it was a long, long night, with roller coasting moods throughout what seemed to be interminable time between the closing of the polling booths and the wee hours of the dawn. By the number of lights that remained on in houses and apartment windows until early morning, it was a long night for most Israelis as well.

The evening started with tension, with party workers waiting expectantly in their various headquarters, and voters settling down, mainly in groups of friends, before television sets and radios to see and hear the results of Israel Television’s exit poll that was scheduled to be announced within one minute of the closing of the polling booths at 10 p.m.

The tension mounted as one minute, then two minutes, and many more minutes passed until it was announced that there would be a delay in announcing the election results due to computer punching errors. And when the result of the poll was finally given, some 20 minutes late, it was clear that the Labor Alignment had failed to achieve its hoped-for big lead over the Likud.

ELATION AND DEPRESSION

From that moment on the mood varied between elation and depression, each change following the receipt of a fresh batch of data via computer screens to politicans and news analysts. On the whole, most parties managed to put on a brave face with the ongoing reports and the best possible interpretations of the results.

TV camera crews at the party headquarters of the main parties had their batteries of cameras trained on the party leaders, and whenever a newsbreak ended, those politicans attentive to the red “on” light on the cameras smiled broadly when they knew their pictures were being transmitted. But some of them were caught by surprise occasionally and clear signs of fatigue and depression were to be seen.

On the whole, the Likud, whose leaders and approach to political issues is more emotional than that of Labor, appeared to be more satisfied while the Laborites appeared more concerned. And for those viewers who gave up and went to bed an hour or so before dawn, the early morning newscasts appeared to provide reason for the general concern underlying the apparent momentary satisfaction. It now appears that neither major party will find it easy to establish a stable government.

VOTING WAS ORDERLY, UNEVENTFUL

The voting itself during the day, by some 78 percent of the 2.6 million eligible voters, was orderly, uneventful and devoid of any incidents. Voting, though increasingly heavy as the day progressed, was leisurely. Banks and other businesses were closed and most people took the day off for trips to the seashore or countryside before or after they cast their ballots.

The turnout was especially high in army camps and among soldiers in the field. Many soldiers were voting for the first time in their lives. Army policy is that “if a soldier can’t get to the polls, the polls will get to the soldier. ” Mobile polling stations were provided for soldiers in outlying regions and in Lebanon.

NUANCES OF VOTING ACTIVITIES

There was very little voting in East Jerusalem where only several hundred of the 180,000 residents are Israeli citizens and entitled to vote. A similar condition prevailed in the ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim quarter in West Jerusalem where anti-Zionist religious groups posted signs warning that to vote for a secular government would delay the coming of the Messiah.

In another religious neighborhood, Bayit Vagan, the polling station opened a half hour late because the woman in charge of the station and her assistant wore light summer dresses. This offended the sensibilities of religious male voters who refused to enter the booth until the women went home and changed to what they considered more modest attire.

President Chaim Herzog, accompanied by his wife, Aura, cast their votes at a polling station in a senior citizens club in the Talbiye section, and on emerging, the President delivered a brief speech. “For hundreds of years Jews did not even dream that they would ever reach such a time. I for one always feel excited,” he said.

Premier Yitzhak Shamir voted at a polling station in Tel Aviv, where he is still registered as a resident. Afterwards he visited Likud headquarters on the outskirts of the city.

Labor Party chairman Shimon Peres voted in the Neve Avivim quarter of Tel Aviv where he lives. He was among friends. His wife, Sonia, is a member of the polling committee. Mordechai Gur, chairman of the Labor election campaign, voted at the same place. Peres toured Labor Party headquarters in Rishon LeZion and Ashdod before going home for a nap.

Reporters, curious crowds and Herut loyalists waited all day outside a polling station in the Bayit Vagan quarter where former Premier Menachem Begin was to vote. But he failed to appear. Begin, who has been in self-imposed seclusion since his resignation last September, issued a statement in the evening. “I cannot vote. It is because of personal reasons only, ” he told the State Radio by telephone.

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