Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni won the Kadima Party primary by a 1 percent margin of victory.
In the early hours on Thursday morning, Sept. 18, 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. The two are scheduled to meet Friday morning at party headquarters.
Livni and religious Shas Party leader Eli Yishai are scheduled to meet Thursday evening to discuss coalition cooperation, Ynet reported. 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. 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 Wednesdays vote at 114 polling stations throughout the country, less than 33,000 people, or about 54 percent of Kadimas 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.
The committee had initially extended the voting period by an hour, but a petition filed immediately after the committee authorized Livnis request by Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, also running for candidacy, caused the committee to reconsider its decision.
The polling stations were originally scheduled to close at 10 p.m., after 12 hours of operation. By 8:30 p.m., nearly 40% of Kadima members had cast their votes.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert voted at a Jerusalem polling station for his own replacement in the Kadima party primaries, but suggested that he was not stepping down just yet. We will see you again, Olmert told reporters on his way out of the empty polling station in the northern Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Zeev.
The premier, who had previously pledged to leave office as soon as his replacement was chosen by the party, refused to say who he had voted for in the internal party vote.