Barak favored over Netanyahu before Israel election
May 16, 1999
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Hours before Israelis vote for a new prime minister Monday, opinion polls and analysts predict Labor Party challenger Ehud Barak will unseat right-wing incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu, after the three other candidates quit the race.
Polling stations open at 7 a.m. (midnight EDT) and close at 10 p.m. (3 p.m. EDT). CNN will broadcast live exit reports when the polls close.
"There is only one poll that is important. That is the actual casting of votes," Barak said Sunday, commenting on surveys showing him winning the one-round showdown against Likud's Netanyahu.
Netanyahu said opinion polls have been wrong before.
"We're going to surprise people. We're going to determine the outcome of this thing, and we're going to win," Netanyahu said Sunday.
The 11th-hour Sunday pullout of Center Party leader Yitzhak Mordechai and ultranationalist Benny Begin spared Israel the prospect of a June 1 runoff if no one won more than 50 percent of the vote in the Monday election.
Israeli election officials said Sunday they will not count ballots cast for the candidates who dropped out.
Analysts said the absence of a runoff denies Netanyahu time he desperately needs to engineer a come-from-behind victory.
Mordechai, a former defense chief who trailed badly in opinion polls, asked his supporters to vote for Barak. Begin, a defector from Likud who was never given any chance of winning, pointedly did not endorse Netanyahu, 49.
Opinion polls released Sunday forecast Barak, a 57-year-old former army chief, would get between 52 and 55.5 percent of the vote.
Avi Dagani of the Geocartographia polling institute predicted Barak would win more votes than Netanyahu from the 700,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
"There could be a landslide," he said on Channel Two.
Analysts have said the largely secular newcomers, many of whom supported Netanyahu in the 1996 election, have moved toward Barak after being turned off by the incumbent's alliance with religious parties.
Israeli Arabs are also expected to line up behind Barak after Saturday's withdrawal of Israeli Arab candidate Azmi Bishara.
Barak has promised to bring new momentum to the Palestinian peace process and eventual implementation of the U.S.-brokered accords that his party predecessors signed with the PLO in 1993.
He said Israeli voters were rejecting "Netanyahu's way, which has led us to this stalemate.... Our way is unity. We have a real chance for unifying the people."
Netanyahu, who froze peace accords, has painted Monday's vote as a battle between his camp and what he called a left-wing alliance that would dangerously cede land to the Palestinians.
"Elect a left-wing government under Barak or Likud under me," he told reporters.
He accused Barak of striking a deal that had the "blessing and support" of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat in order to get the Arab candidate to quit the race.
In addition to the prime ministerial ballot, Israel's 4.3 million voters will vote for a party's list of candidates for the country's 120-member parliament.
Thirty-one parties are vying for election. No one party has ever won an outright parliamentary majority.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Jerusalem Dispatch: Single-issue election puts spotlight on Netanyahu
Likelihood of runoff big question as Israeli race winds down
Israel's Institutions of Government
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