17 de set. de 2008

Olmert vows, 'We'll see you again' while casting his vote

Tzipi Livni, Foreign Minister...

Tzipi Livni, Foreign Minister and candidate for Kadima party leadership, gestures after casting her vote during the Kadima elections in Tel Aviv, Wednesday.

Closing a circle, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert voted Wednesday 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 Ze'ev.

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.

The polling station, which was located in a community center in the outlying Jerusalem neighborhood, was packed with journalists and swarmed with security personnel ahead of the premier's visit.

But the group of five election personnel and observers as well as the handful of polling station ushers stationed at the site sat listlessly in the auditorium for over an hour at midday when not a single person came to vote.

Four hours after the polling station opened, only 65 of the 719 Kadima members registered to vote at the site had come to vote, an election observer said. As of 4 p.m., 18.7% of Kadima members had cast their ballots.

The less than 20 percent turnout on a torrid end-of-summer September day was seen as likely to benefit Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz who was polling a distant second behind the front-runner, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, but who was considered well-organized at the grassroots level.

If the winner of the internal party vote is unable to form a new government within the next month, Olmert could stay on as the head of a caretaker government for several months until general elections are held in early 2009, and a new government is formed.

Olmert himself, who has been forced out of office due to a series of corruption charges, walked into the polling station surrounded by his secret service detail shortly before 2 p.m.

The polling station was plastered with pictures of his predecessor, the Kadima Party founder, former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, but not one of the extremely unpopular Olmert himself.

"Hello there," Olmert said before shaking hands with all five election personnel and observers seated at the table in the middle of the room where he was provided with an envelope to cast his vote.

After disappearing behind a voting booth, and stopping to pose for the horde of cameramen at the scene, Olmert was asked who he voted for.

"A good vote," he said.

Pressed, he urged Kadima's 74,000 registered party members to come out and vote, and make the primaries a success.

"Goodbye," he waved to reporters on his way out. "We will see you again yet."

Meanwhile, all four candidates had cast their votes by Wednesday afternoon. Livni, who voted Wednesday morning at the Bnei Dan Hostel in Tel-Aviv announced that her "vote is as important as any other vote. I call on all Kadima members to turn up and vote. You have the ability to decide who will be the next leading candidate.

"If you are fed up with yesterday's politics then bring about change by voting for what you believe in. Think what would be best for the state of Israel - the best thing for Israel is Kadima," she added.

Mofaz exhibited confidence as he exited the polling booth in Kfar Saba. "I feel fine; tonight will end well," he told reporters. "I slept eight hours last night and I am confident of my victory."

Dichter, who voted in Ashkelon, expressed hope that opinion polls that placed him and Sheetrit out of the running would prove false. "The pollsters have proven false in the past and I suppose that they could prove false today as well," he said. "However," he added, "we can't discuss this in terms of a Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) for polls and pollsters."

Sheetrit echoed Dichter in refusing to acknowledge the inevitable defeat predicted by the polls. "I'm convinced that the results will differ from the polls," he insisted. "I've always said that votes must be counted after the ballot boxes are closed, not before. It's a shame that this is how election campaigns are run in Israel. It testifies to the media's superficiality; instead of examining the views of every candidate and what he has contributed, they commission a poll and fall in line with the two front runners."

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