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ISRAEL: Who will lead Kadima?

September 17, 2008 | 10:08 am

The 114 polling stations are open and members of Israel's Kadima party are casting their votes to choose a successor to outgoing party chief and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Livni_2 The pols won't close until noon pacific time, with preliminary results  following soon after. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni holds a decisive edge over Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz according to all pre-vote polls, but analysts here have warned that it's harder to predict results from such a small voter sample--there are about 74,000 registered Kadima members and only a fraction of them are expected to vote.

As of Wednesday afternoon in Israel, the local media was estimating voter turnout around 20 percent--a figure which may improve Mofaz's chances. The hawkish former general and defense minister is generally less popular than Livni, but has built a stronger grassroots political organization that includes the support of most labor unions.

A low voter turnout would increase the impact of Mofaz's get-out-the-vote abilities.

Livni seems aware of the threat and urged her supporters to make their voices heard.

"The turnout rate is unsatisfactory," she told the Ynet news website. "People should come out and vote."

Mofaz_2The winner will immediately become engulfed in the popular Israeli sport of cutting deals with fringe political parties in order to cobble together a coalition.

In the process, both the right-wing Mofaz and the more centrist Livni will likely have to make some major compromises and concessions.

A column by Haaretz's esteemed Aluf Benn predicts a "cold dose of reality" for whoever wins.

"The victor joins a long line of Prime ministers forced to renounce their old policies upon taking office," Benn wrote.

And despite the messy spectacle of Olmert being chased out of office by multiple corruption investigations, columnist Guy Bechor proclaimed that Israel's Arab neighbors are jealous, "because of our ability to topple a prime minister."

— Ashraf Khalil in Jerusalem

Livni photo courtesy of the World Economic Forum
Mofaz photo courtesy of the US Department of defense