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High voter turnout in Israeli elections lifts hopes of leftists

January 22, 2013|By Edmund Sanders
  • A jogger passes a line of posters supporting Shelly Yachimovich, leader of the Israeli Labor Party, in Tel Aviv on Tuesday.
A jogger passes a line of posters supporting Shelly Yachimovich, leader… (Jim Hollander / European…)

JERUSALEM —  A stronger-than-expected voter turnout in Israel’s parliamentary elections Tuesday lifted hopes of center-left parties, who expect to be the beneficiary of the trend.

As of 6 p.m., 55.5% of eligible voters had cast their ballots, up about five percentage points from 2009, election officials said. Much of the higher turnout appeared to be taking place in secular communities, such as Tel Aviv, and in Arab cities, where turnout is historically low.

It was unclear whether the trends would continue or if Israelis were simply voting earlier in the day than usual, taking advantage of the national election day holiday and spring-like weather. But some Israeli media outlets predicted that overall turnout might surpass 70% for the first time since 1999, when it reached 79%. In 2009 only 65% of eligible voters turned out to the polls.

Concerned by reports that turnout in traditionally conservative communities was lower than usual, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who has been widely seen as a shoo-in for reelection — made several public appeals to his supporters to “leave everything and go vote.”

Netanyahu’s rivals predicted a ballot-box revolution, despite recent polls that suggested the right-wing parties would win a majority of the votes.

"I feel like I did during the social protest," said former opposition leader Tzipi Livni during an appearance in the city of Holon near Tel Aviv, referring to the 2011 summer demonstrations against Israel’s high cost of living. “Suddenly people are coming out of their homes.” Livni is running as head of the newly formed Movement Party.

A poor showing for Israel’s right-wing parties could force Netanyahu to reach out to centrist and leftist parties in order to cobble together a majority in Israel’s 120-seat Knesset. It could also open an opportunity for a rival candidate to seek the prime ministership.

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