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Polls Open in Tight Israeli Election



Security is on the minds of voters in Israel as they cast ballots in national elections, Tuesday. The poll pits hardline former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party against Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni of the ruling centrist Kadima party. Public opinion polls had shown Mr. Netanyahu head of the rest, going into the elections, but that lead has narrowed and analysts are predicting a tight race.

Voters turned out in small numbers in the early hours of polling, braving a rain storm that went through much of Israel Tuesday.

Pollsters had predicted a low turnout. But Raymond Jayson, a voter in Jewish West Jerusalem says the stakes are too high for him to stay home. Like for many Israelis, he says security is the number-one issue.

"I think that we have a major problem with Iran," he said. "I'm not sure that whoever is the Israeli prime minister is going to be able to deal with it on our own. I must be quite clear. I voted for Netanyahu. I think he is the strongest, in realistic terms, as to what needs to be done. If we have go it alone, it won't be the first time the Jewish people have had to go it alone."

For months, polls have suggested the right-wing Likud party's Benjamin Netanyahu emerging as a clear winner in these elections. Mr. Netanyahu's promises to be tough on Iran and the Palestinians and his calls for toppling the militant Islamist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip have resonated among many.

However, Mr. Netanyahu's lead narrowed considerably, in the days leading up to the election, with polls suggesting the race may be too close to call.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who has portrayed herself as one who can negotiate but who is also willing to use force when necessary, has sustained a following among those who still want to give negotiations a chance.

But even those who support negotiation, as opposed to force, hope for a tough new leadership. A woman who identifies herself as a leftist and cast her ballot in West Jerusalem on Tuesday, says she hopes the new leadership will be willing to negotiate with Israel's enemies - to a degree.

"Without compromise there's no negotiation. Both sides would have to," she said. "But not only Israel. The other side would also have to change their state of mind. They cannot continue to think that Israel has to be demolished. They cannot. We want a future here for them and for us."

Analysts expect smaller right wing parties to make significant gains in the race for the country's 120 parliament seats. Among those is the Israel Our Home party, led by Avigdor Lieberman, an ultra-nationalist who has called for the exclusion of Arab communities from Israel. Pre-election polls show his party moving to third place, behind Likud and Kadima.

Voters are casting ballots for parties, not candidates.

The leader of the party that gets the most votes will have to form a coalition government, a process that could take weeks.

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