After winning the Tuesday election by a landslide, Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon is expected to establish a narrow right-wing coalition with the ultra-Orthodox parties. Such a coalition would be based on 63 out of 120 members of Knesset. But Sharon is expected to leave several ministerial positions free for members of the Labor party, with whom he has said he wants to establish a national-unity government.
Yesterday Sharon defeated Ehud Barak 62.6% to 25.2% in the biggest landslide victory in Israeli election history. Conceding defeat, Barak confounded predictions and stunned his supporters by resigning from the Israeli parliament and from his position as the leader of the Labor party. His resignation will take effect once Sharon forms a government.
Sharon reportedly telephoned Ehud Barak before the announcement of his resignation, asking him to join a national unity government led by the Likud and anchored by Barak's Labor party. Sharon cronies say he intends to offer Labor MK Shimon Peres the foreign portfolio, and to give Labor the finance ministry too.
The first results came at 22:00 Israel time, as the voting polls officially closed countrywide. Statistics show that this was the lowest Israeli voter turnout ever, with just 62% of all eligible voters bothering to go to the polls.
Voter turnout in the Arab sector was registered at around 25%, which comes as little surprise. The Palestinian leadership had declared Tuesday a "day of rage" in response to the Israeli elections. Israel's Arabs comprise 20% of the country's population, and traditionally vote for the Labor party. But it looks as though Ehud Barak only received 5% of the total Arab vote.
"We've had it," said a top One Israel (Labor) source, commenting on the Israeli-Arab boycott. Pre-election polls had predicted a clear victory for Sharon. A high turnout of Arab voters might have swayed the election toward Barak.
Some 4.5 million people were eligible to vote at 7,406 regular polling stations and the 950 special Israeli Army polling stations. The army vote began on Sunday, but closed at the same time as the regular polls. In addition, some 35,000 people voted at the nation's 184 hospitals, and 10,000 prisoners and prison guards voted in 42 prisons.
Overseas voters cast their ballots earlier on, but only 66% of the 3,750 eligible overseas voters chose to do so. This is much lower than the normal overseas voter turnout rate, which stood at 79% in the last two elections (1996 and 1999).
Most Israelis took advantage of the Election Day holiday to enjoy time with their friends and family. But election monitors say Israelis who immigrated from the former Soviet Union turned out to vote in droves. It is believed that most supported Sharon, as did most of the ultra-Orthodox bloc.
The last poll before the elections shown on Israel Channel Two television last night, showed Sharon winning 58% of the vote against 42% for Barak, discounting blank ballots. Early election results of 59.5% for Sharon and 40.5% for Barak show just how close that prediction has come.
Ehud Barak's party, One Israel, has already begun to look for reasons for a Barak loss, including the "virtual" candidacy of Shimon Peres, who until the last moment sought to replace Barak on the One Israel ticket. Another reason mentioned is the failure to achieve an accord with the Palestinians despite extreme last-minute controversial concessions.
Shimon Peres told Israel Channel Two television news on Monday night that he would support a national-unity government if Sharon sticks to the principles of the Oslo agreement and the compromise proposal raised by former United States President Bill Clinton.