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Israeli Exit Polls Show Dead Heat, but Likud Says It Can Form Coalition

The Likud bloc expressed confidence Tuesday night that it could form a new government, while the Labor Party was reported to be depressed and uncertain it could block a Likud move.

The two parties’ assessments of the voting Tuesday, which could change once ballots are actually counted, were based on results of exit polls taken at 46 locations in Israel, beginning at 8 p.m. local time, two hours before the official polls closed.

The Knesset configuration predicted by the initial exit polls was 40 seats each for the Labor and Likud, though television projections late in the evening indicated Labor’s share could drop by a seat or two.

According to the initial exit polls, Labor can expect to win 11 more seats from parties of the left and center, while Likud can count on seven more from potential coalition partners on the right.

But neither of the two major blocs would be able to command a majority in the 120-member Knesset alone, if the exit polls are accurate.

The stalemate could be broken by the religious parties, which together polled 14 seats. They are considered more likely to align with Likud than with Labor.

A Likud-led coalition of right-wing and all religious parties would command 61 Knesset seats, a slim majority.

The two parties on the far left, the Hadash Communists and the Progressive List for Peace, won 5 and 2 seats respectively, according to the exit polls. Both are considered beyond the political pale, and neither bloc is likely to consider them potential coalition partners.

About 2.8 million voters were eligible to cast ballots at nearly 5,000 polling stations all over Israel.

HIGH TURNOUT

According to early reports, voter turnout was higher than expected, running close to the 80 percent level of the last elections in 1984.

Dry weather and sunny skies helped bring the voters out. The polling stations opened at 7 a.m. local time and closed at 10 p.m.

More than 7,000 police officers were on special duty around the country to maintain order. They had little work to do.

Minor scuffles were reported, mainly between rival ultra-Orthodox groups. Five religious parties were competing for votes.

Two residents of the Israeli Arab village of Jisr e-Zarka were slightly injured when shots were fired, reportedly in a political quarrel.

In the ultra-Orthodox township of Bnei Brak, the manager of a home for the aged was accused of “borrowing” the identity cards of several elderly residents in order to vote more than once.

A woman in Bnei Brak complained that her ID card was snatched from her hand as she waited in line to vote.

Rival religious factions lit bonfires on the main street of Bnei Brak and hurled invectives at each other until police arrived to separate them and extinguished the fires.

Some religious parties accused supporters of the Chabad Hasidic movement in Jerusalem of illegal electioneering at the polls.

The Hasidim were urging all males to don tefillin before entering the voting booth The Chabad movement is strongly backing the Agudat Yisrael party this year, since an anti-Chabad faction broke away to form the rival Degel Hatorah party.

The Central Election Committee, meanwhile, rejected a complaint by Mapam, the United Workers Party of Israel, that balloons with the Likud party name and ballot code letters tethered to some polling stations constituted illegal propaganda.

THE INITIAL TALLY

The tally of seats reported by the exit polls adds up to 119, one short of the full Knesset. The breakdown is as follows, starting with the center and left: Labor, 40 seats; Citizens Rights Movement, 6; Mapam, 3; Center-Shinui, 2; Hadash Communists, 5; and Progressive List for Peace, 2.

On the right: Likud, 40 seats; Tehiya, 3; Tsomet, 2; and Moledet, 2.

The religious parties: National Religious Party, 5 seats; Shas, 5; and Agudat Yisrael, 4.

The recently formed moderate religious party Meimad, which seemed promising according to pre-election opinion polls, failed to win a single seat, if the exit polls are correct.

The newly formed Degel Hatorah party, an Agudat Yisrael breakaway, did not win any seats according to the initial exit surveys. But television projections later in the evening showed the party making it into the Knesset with one seat.

The TV projections, based on exit polling and early precinct returns, also showed the religious parties gaining votes, winning as many as 17 seats total in the new Knesset.

No information was available on the fate of the new Arab Democratic Party, a breakaway from Labor led by Knesset member Abdel Wahab Darousha.

The exit poll count was based on votes deposited in unofficial ballot boxes set up at 46 selected polling stations. Voters emerging from the booths were asked to repeat their votes in the dummy ballot boxes.

The exit polling stations were staffed by Israel Broadcast Authority personnel, public opinion pollsters and election analysts.

The dummy ballots were counted and analyzed during the two hours before the polls closed. According to the experts, the votes cast during the final two hours would not change the outcome.

But considerable importance is attached to the soldiers’ vote.

Most voted at polling stations in the larger army camps. Portable ballot boxes were taken to remote outposts, where soldiers were allowed to vote in advance of Election Day.

Soldiers in southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip voted Monday. Their votes were to be counted at the same time as the rest.

Soldiers were required to deposit two envelopes. One contained the ballot of the party of their choice. Another contained the soldier’s name and civilian ID number.

That envelope is checked at Israel Defense Force election headquarters to match the solider’s ID with the military election roles. The ballots were then sent to the soldiers’ designated districts to be opened and counted.

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