The picture became crystal clear shortly after the polls closed Tuesday night: The titanic battle within Kadima, the country's largest political party, was over – and Shaul Mofaz had won. Three years after inheriting the party from Ehud Olmert, who inherited it from Ariel Sharon, Tzipi Livni was unceremoniously shown the door.
Mofaz, who won 61.7 percent of the vote in Tuesday's Kadima primary, called on Livni to stay, and declared himself a candidate for the post of prime minister in the next general elections. Livni won 37.2% of the vote, with several hundred voters submitting a blank ballot. The low voter turnout among Kadima members, 41%, indicated a weariness by the rank-and-file of the party's internal machinations, alleged financial corruption, and continued loss of public support in favor of a revived Labor party and a new political movement headed by Yair Lapid.
Mofaz, for his part, sees his first pressing task as party chairman to be to prevent Kadima from splitting. The long-time animosity between Mofaz and his rival Livni has threatened to break up the party, regardless of who won the primary. Mofaz has spoken with many of the MKs from Livni's camp over recent weeks, assuring them that if he were to win he would not hold a grudge against them. For her part, Livni said Wednesday that she did not intend to declare a decision on her political future, nor was she going to address speculations that she was planning to leave the party.
The new Kadima chairman, a former IDF chief of staff and defense minister, plans to assume Livni’s official role as oppositon leader, a move which requires the approval of the majority of the opposition members. Analysts predict that after Kadima members provide the necessary approval, the other opposition parties will do the same.
Ever since the last time they went head to head in the polls three years ago, the relationship between Livni and Mofaz has been strained, and only deteriorated over time, reaching an unprecedented low when the polls opened on Tuesday. Both camps tried to bring as many of their supporters to the polls as they could during the 12 hours of voting. The two rivals scoured the country from north to south on Tuesday in efforts to rally voters and increase their respective chances of victory.
The race began with Livni far behind but confident that she would be able to close the gap as the day went on. That didn’t happen, and, as it turned out, she lost by a wide margin. Mofaz, however, began campaigning for Tuesday’s primary three years ago, on the day after he lost to Livni. He has spent the last four years wooing voters.
At 7 a.m. Tuesday, three hours before the polls opened, Livni was still optimistic, telling thousands of her supporters in a recorded message: “Today is the Kadima primary – come and vote. It is important, it is for all of our sakes. Let’s restore hope to this world together. We, and our children, deserve better. Don’t give up, don’t accept what is happening – come and we will win.”
Mofaz chose to begin this fateful day by visiting his parents’ gravesite. From the cemetery he traveled to the polling station in Kfar Saba, near his home, accompanied by his wife Orit. After placing the ballot in the box he said: “I feel great. This Kadima primary is a vote for the future of this country, its character and values.”
Mofaz called on registered Kadima voters to “vote, make a difference, and create a new reality on Israel’s political map. At the end of this day Kadima will embark on a new path as an alternative to [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s bad government.”
The headquarters of both Livni and Mofaz used the services of telemarketing companies that called tens of thousands of registered voters urging them to go to the polls. Mofaz visited the headquarters during the afternoon, telling the telemarketers and campaign activists that “our victory will be certain if we bring a higher voter turnout than the national average. It is within our grasp, don’t let go. Now is the time to vote.”