Voter turnout in Labor primaries at 35 percent

As Labor began voting for party chairman Wednesday morning, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said that a victory for Amir Peretz „is liable to cause a problem for the Likud.” Histadrut chair Peretz, like Shalom a North African-born member of the younger generation of prominent politicians, represents a marked departure from the Labor Old Guard. A total of 100,474 party members are eligible to vote. The polling stations opened at 10 A.M., and are scheduled to close at 8 P.M. By 5 P.M., some 35 percent of eligible voters had cast their ballots. The highest turnout was marked in the south, where over 25 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots, while less than 10 percent of voters in the Arab sector voted. Sources in the Peretz camp believe that a low voter turnout will work to Peretz’s advantage, while a high turnout will benefit Peres. The octogenarian Peres, who began his political career as a young aide to Israel’s founding prime minister David Ben-Gurion, is favored to win the race. Also contending is former party chairman Benjamin Ben-Eliezer. Ex-prime minister Ehud Barak and current Science Minister Matan Vilnai have withdrawn from the race, throwing their support to Peres. Peres now leads in opinion polls, but has been defeated many times in the past despite favorable polling numbers. Peres needs to garner 40 percent of the votes to win. The Peretz camp, which is seen to possess far superior organizational capabilities, is said to be hoping for a relatively low turnout. Peres camp optimistic Peres and his supporters, some of whom only declared their allegiance at the very last moment, smiled and joked for the cameras Monday. They radiated confidence and unity, forgetting for a moment the internal rivalries and jealousies. Peres said a few times Tuesday that he was sure of victory. But during the tour in Lod, when asked to refer directly to the positive public opinion polls, he said, „I understand nothing about surveys.” The audience smiled, and then Peres came out with an old saw of his: „Public opinion surveys are like perfume: pleasant to smell, dangerous to swallow.” Ehud Barak, Matan Vilnai, Haim Ramon and Dalia Itzik all came to a press conference that Peres and his camp held ahead of Wednesday’s vote. Interior Minister Ophir Pines-Paz wanted to come also, but he was stuck in Jerusalem, Peres informed those present. „Buzi” [Housing Minister Isaac Herzog] isn’t coming either,” he said. „Labor has a first rate team,” Peres said. „I will be happy to be the first among equals, to bring people closer together. If Labor’s people are as united as its ideology, there is a good chance of winning the general elections. I’m not a man of ‘me, me, me,’ but a man of ‘we.'” The atmosphere was reserved and dignified, and at the same time cheerful and confident. Barak, who until recently was himself uncommitted, welcomed Vilnai, who found his way home this week. „It’s a pity our friend Fuad [Benjamin Ben Eliezer] didn’t join as well.” There were no forgiving words for Amir Peretz, however. He was one prodigal son whom nobody called to come home. Ramon said Peretz had failed the leadership test when he refused to support the disengagement government, and Barak compared him to Moshe Feiglin and Uzi Landau of the Likud „rebels.” If Peretz is elected, Barak said, Labor would turn into „a nice little niche party – enthusiastic, rejuvenated, but with a zero chance of winning. It’s a party that feels clean ideologically.” He said Peretz’s approach „is basically filled with good intentions, but is radical and has no chance.” BPI-info