Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni
Foreign Minister Tzipi LivniIsrael News Photo: (Flash 90)

Aides to Transportation and Road Safety Minister Shaul Mofaz announced early Thursday that he has decided to accept the results of Wednesday's primary elections for the leadership of the Kadima party, despite the closeness of the count.

IDF Army Radio reported he would accept Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's leadership as head of the party, and support her in her bid to form a new government, despite advice from his attorneys that he challenge the results based on alleged polling irregularities.

With almost all of the votes counted, Livni won by less than 2%, and her margin of victory was a scant 431 votes. Mofaz's camp initially said he would appeal the results.

The exit polls for all three leading television channels in Israel misled the public into believing that Livni had an easy victory, giving her 47-49 percent of the vote versus 37 percent for Minister Mofaz. The Channel 2/Dahaf exit poll gave Livni 48 percent of the vote to 37 percent for Mofaz. The Channel 1 poll gave Livni 47.2 percent to Mofaz's 37.1. The Channel 10 poll gave Livni 49 percent and Mofaz 37 percent.

Had he filed a challenge to void the results at the polling station in the Bedouin city of Rahat, and had the appeal been accepted, Livni's margin of victory would have been a single vote.

Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit received 8.5 percent of the vote, and Public Security Minister Avi Dichter 6.5 percent, compared with seven percent that each was given in the exit polls.

The voter turnout at the Kadima primaries passed the 50 percent mark during the evening hours, according to the party's central election committee. The statistic was greeted with relief at the Foreign Minister's campaign headquarters, where a higher turnout was seen as an advantage.

Fatah-PA pleased

"It is no secret that working with Livni will be much easier. She knows the material and there is no need to start from scratch with her."

Sources in the Fatah-PA expressed satisfaction with the result of the TV exit polls Wednesday night. Fatah-PA officials followed the vote anxiously and were worried by the low voter turnout, just like the Livni camp.

A senior Fatah-PA source said that "even if our formal position is that we work with whoever is elected, it is no secret that working with Livni will be much easier. She knows the material, and there is no need to start from scratch with her."

The source estimated that if Mofaz were elected he would have tried to create a coalition with Shas and the nationalist parties and toughen Israel's stance in negotiations, whereas "Livni understands that the solution to the situation is a quick diplomatic agreement with us," he said.

Livni Asked for More Time

The polling was supposed to end at 10:00 P.M. but Kadima's central elections committee extended it by 30 minutes at Livni's request and despite Mofaz's protests. Moti Morel, a strategic advisor to Mofaz, said following the media exit polls that "if Livni wins tonight, then Miss Clean will have to live with the eternal stain of having stolen an election with extra time."

"You can't change the rules of the game in the middle of the game," Morel said. "You don't just come up to a judge and say 'give me a few more minutes."

Whip Predicts Whipping

Likud Knesset faction whip MK Gideon Saar predicted Wednesday that Kadima will be trounced in the next elections.

Speaking at a pre-Rosh HaShanah Likud function, Saar said: "A prime minister must be elected by the entire nation. At the end of all of the deals, combinations and agreements there is a voting booth, and in the next elections, Kadima will be beaten and defeated at the polls."

MK Shelly Yechimovich (Labor) said Wednesday evening that Livni should call elections instead of trying to form a coalition in the present Knesset. She spoke on a Channel 2 panel.

Yechimovich's position was met with surprise by fellow panelists who noted that Labor is expected to take a walloping if elections are held anytime soon, because Livni will take many of its voters away from it.