Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni won the Kadima Party primary by a 1 percent margin of victory.
In the wee hours on Thursday morning, Judge Dan Arbel announced that Livni beat Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz by a mere 431 votes – 43.1 percent to Mofaz’s 42 percent, according to Israeli media reports.
Mofaz called Livni on Thursday morning to congratulate her. Mofaz cancelled a meeting scheduled for Friday morning after announcing Thursday afternoon that he would be taking a “break” from politics.
Livni and religious Shas Party leader Eli Yishai met Thursday evening to discuss coalition cooperation, Ynet reported. Yishai said following the meeting that the two had not begun negotiations. Labor leader Ehud Barak also called Livni to offer his congratulations.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told reporters in Ramallah Thursday that he welcomed Livni’s election, while Hamas rejected the choice of Livni to lead the ruling party.
Early exit polling had given Livni a double-digit margin of victory, as reported initially by JTA. But as the votes were counted late into the night, her margin dwindled to about 1 percent. The two other contenders in the primary were far behind, with Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit winning 8.5 percent of the vote and Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter garnering 6.5 percent.
Assuming Livni’s victory stands, she will still have to piece together a coalition government to formally replace Ehud Olmert as prime minister. If she fails, Israel will be headed for new general elections.
In Wednesday’s vote at 114 polling stations throughout the country, less than 33,000 people, or about 54 percent of Kadima’s members, voted for party leader – a relatively low turnout by Israeli standards. Even so, Livni complained of “congestion” at polling stations and argued for an extension of voting time by an hour. In a compromise, Kadima decided to extend voting by 30 minutes.