Labor party primaries
Labor party primariesIsrael News photo: Flash 90

The race for the leadership of the Labor party is headed for a second round after none of the candidates was able to achieve 40% of the votes in Monday's first round.

After 90% of the votes had been counted, MK Shelly Yachimovich was leading with 32% of the votes, with MK Amir Peretz close behind with 31%. MK Isaac Herzog was in third place, receiving 25% of the votes, while former Labor party leader Amram Mitzna received only 12%.

According to Army Radio, 65% of Labor party members voted in Monday's primaries. The second round between the two leading candidates, Yachimovich and Peretz, will be held on Wednesday, September 21.

Earlier, Mitzna, who served as Labor leader between 2002 and 2003, gathered his activists at his election headquarters in Haifa (where he served as mayor between 1993 and 2003) and thanked them for their work in recent months.

"I respect the emerging election results, and as I promised I will stand next to whoever is chosen to head the party," said Mitzna.

The evening's big surprise was Herzog, who received 25% of the votes. He told reporters that in a sense he is the winner in the first round of the primaries.

"It was proven today that the Herzog camp is a strong camp," he said, adding, "I'm waiting for the final results, and I'll consult with my friends and partners about the direction in which the Labor party should go."

Analysts believe that Herzog's choice of who he will back in the second round, Peretz or Yachimovich, might be fundamental as to deciding the winner of the leadership race. It is believed Herzog will back Peretz but that is yet to be confirmed.

The Labor party was split earlier in the year after Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the party's former leader, quit the party abruptly along with four of his supporters, MKs Matan Vilnai, Shalom Simchon, Einat Wilf and Orit Noked.

Barak and his supporters later inaugurated their new party, Independence.

Analysts said on Monday the new leader of the Labor party is likely to have a profound impact on the results of the next election. It is believed that Yachimovich as party leader would be able to take away votes from Tzipi Livni's Kadima party, while Peretz would likely take votes from the Likud and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Yachimovich recently said in an interview that there is nothing wrong with the existence of the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.

"I'm familiar with the false equation that if there were no settlements we would have a welfare state," she said. "This is disconnected from reality. There is nothing wrong with the fact that there are Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria. They were built by the Labor party with national consensus. This is a historical fact."

Yachimovich also said in the same interview she would not boycott any products from Judea and Samaria.