Labor chooses leader

Ehud Barak and Ami Ayalon faced off in an election to decide the leadership of Israel’s Labor Party.

Tens of thousands of Labor members cast ballots Tuesday for a new chairman to replace Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who lost to Barak and Ayalon in a first-round vote last month.

Surveys predicted a close call between former Barak, a former prime minister, and Ayalon, a retired admiral and Shin Bet security chief. Results of exit polls were expected by nightfall, with the final tally on Wednesday morning.

Labor is the biggest partner in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s coalition government, so Tuesday’s runoff could have serious implications for Israeli policymaking. Both Barak and Ayalon have called for Olmert to quit over the failures of last year’s Lebanon war. They are seen as likely to withdraw Labor from the government immediately.

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