|AT THE CROSSROADS|
May 30, 1996
With 99.9 percent of the ballots counted, Benjamin Netanyahu is leading Shimon Peres 50.3 percent to 49.7 percent. For many, Netanyahu's lead is a big surprise. After a report from Charles Krause in Israel, Jim Lehrer talks to three experts about the implications of such a breathtakingly close election.
CHARLES KRAUSE: When Israelis went to bed last night they thought Shimon Peres had won yesterday's election and would serve another four years as Israel's prime minister. But initial exit polls were wrong, and as the actual ballots were counted through the night, the tide shifted to Likud Party challenger Benjamin Netanyahu. Final results from the election are not likely before tomorrow at the earliest. And there is still enough absentee and military votes left to be counted to reverse the tide yet again back to Peres. But most analysts and it seems most Israelis think that Bibi Netanyahu will emerge as Israel's next prime minister. Israelis also elected a new parliament yesterday, and it now appears that the big winners were religious parties dedicated to promoting Jewish traditions. In Tel Aviv today, there was a strong sense that as a result of yesterday's vote, something historic and unexpected had happened. Peres supporters were stunned.
SHIRLEY BERMER, Peres Supporter: I think it's, uh, it's a black day for, for all of us.
ESTHER YARUSHALMR, Peres Supporter: Yes. I can't believe that it's happened.
SHIRLEY BERMER: I still can't believe. It's like a nightmare.
ESTHER YARUSHALMR: Very hard.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Why? Why are you so upset?
SHIRLEY BERMER: Because Bibi is not the right person. I was shocked because I, I couldn't believe--it's really--
ESTHER YARUSHALMR: Yes. We cried, just cried.
ARIEL SAID, Peres Supporter: Actually I'm quite, still, I'm quite in shock because I wasn't prepared for this kind of result. I mean, I was throughout this whole year, I mean, I felt that Peres was getting stronger and stronger and, uh, the result really caught us in real shock.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Do you think this means the end of the peace process?
ARIEL SAID: I really don't know what this is all about, but I think it'll ruin what Peres tried to build up. It'll change a lot of things that Peres tried to do.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Netanyahu's supporters agreed that much would change in their view for the better.
DAVID ALLUSH, Netanyahu Supporter: (speaking through interpreter) We believe Bibi can do much better for us and the country. First of all, Bibi Netanyahu and the Likud Party think about the Israeli people, about the Jewish people, about our land. It's very important. Bibi will keep Israel united.
CHARLES KRAUSE: How do you feel?
ITZIK ZAVI, Netanyahu Supporter: I feel good, very good.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Why did you vote for him? Why?
ITZIK ZAVI: Why? Because he's young, because he's strong, and better.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Asher Arian is a political science professor at Haifa University and a leading expert on Israeli elections. We interviewed him this afternoon in Tel Aviv, asking him to explain what happened.
ASHER ARIAN, Haifa University: Netanyahu got his votes mostly from the religious. That's the clearest block. He got it from the settlers, the settlements. That's a much smaller block. He got it from the--all of the Likud, the religious parties. They seem to almost, 98, 99 percent have voted for him. That's about 55 percent of the Jewish vote went to Netanyahu.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Who voted for Mr. Peres?
PROF. ARIAN: Mr. Peres was, the other 45 percent the Jewish vote plus about 95 percent of the Arabs and the Arabs came out in unprecedented numbers, realizing how important this was.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Was the turnout as high as it has been in previous elections?
PROF. ARIAN: Even higher, even higher, slightly higher among the Jews, but among the Jews almost everybody always votes, and among the Arabs, there was a very substantial increase. Among the Arabs, however, there was also a phenomenon of people casting a blank vote, i.e., showing up to vote but not voting for the prime minister. Probably the number of blank votes among the Arabs is bigger than the amount that Peres needed to win. Had they voted for him, he would be prime minister.
CHARLES KRAUSE: What happens next? They're still counting absentee ballots. Where do they come from?
PROF. ARIAN: Well, there's about 140,000 ballots of people who voted outside of their precinct, of their ballot, voting place. That's mostly soldiers who are on assignment and vote in their units. It's also people in the hospital, people who are in prisons, and diplomats, about 4,000 diplomats, Israelis around the world, and about 40 sailors, Israeli sailors on Israeli flagships.
CHARLES KRAUSE: How long will it be before final results?
PROF. ARIAN: Well, they're working on it now. It's a complicated system of making sure that people don't vote twice. They hope they'll get it done before the beginning of the Sabbath. If they don't, it'll wait till Saturday night, and we'll start counting again. And if that's the case, probably not till early Sunday morning will we have final, final results.
CHARLES KRAUSE: From what you know of the voting patterns in this country, is there anything that--I mean, could the results swing back to Peres?
PROF. ARIAN: It could. There's a low probability of that happening. There is some talk about the prisoners, for example, giving Peres a boost because about half of them are Arabs, so there's some hope there, but there's no way of knowing. That's not a very good, substantial group, however. More likely, because the soldiers are young and the young split in favor of Netanyahu, the vote will support the results that we have now, which gives Netanyahu a slight advantage.
CHARLES KRAUSE: This is the first election in which Israelis voted for both prime minister and for parliament. In the past, they elected the parliament and then the parliament elected the prime minister. What impact has that had on the results of this election?
PROF. ARIAN: Well, I think that's the crucial feature of these elections, and I think what it does, it just decimates the party system. The political parties have never been smaller, have never been weaker. It is the--it has never been the case that the largest party wins a quarter of the Knesset seats as has happened this time. It has never been the case that the largest party finds itself without the prime ministry as happened in this case, and so what you have is very small major parties or relatively small major parties and a large amount of more sectarian parties--the religious, the Arabs, the Russian immigrants. And these are going to make demands that are different, different from the peace plan or the peace process. And it's going to complicate things, but he's going to have to play on each of these demands.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Neither Peres nor Netanyahu is expected to claim victory or acknowledge defeat before the final vote is announced tomorrow or over the weekend.