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Israel’s Candidates Make Their Last-Minute Appeals

Front-runners Tzipi Livni and Benjamin Netanyahu made last-minute appeals to Israel’s voters Tuesday, as polls opened in a general election that pollsters have said is too close to call.

As Livni cast her ballot in Tel Aviv, the Kadima chairwoman vowed that victory was “within reach.”

“I know that the ballot I cast here was ‘Ken’ Kadima and I know that like me, many others will do so,” said Livni, referring to the election code that appears on the ballot for her party. “It’s close, it’s within reach and what’s most important is to go out and vote.”

Netanyahu, for his part, urged rightists to vote for his Likud party, warning them that its victory was by no means certain.

“In the beginning people thought that I would win anyway, and permitted themselves to dissipate in all sorts of directions. But we cannot grant ourselves this luxury and anyone who wants change should vote Likud,” said Netanyahu, speaking from a poll near his home in Jerusalem.

The Likud leader, once a clear frontrunner in opinion polls, has lost ground to Livni since Israel’s 22-day offensive against Hamas in Gaza last month. The two leaders were locked Tuesday in a statistical dead heat.

Labor chairman Ehud Barak, meanwhile, called on Israelis to vote for his center-left party in order to enable it to challenge the right.

“There is no doubt that many will return home, to their real home, Labor. I’m sure that we will end up strong and strengthened. Only a strong Labor is strong enough to be an alternative to the right,” said Barak, speaking at a Tel Aviv polling station.

At Livni’s Tel Aviv polling station, the Kadima chairwoman told party activists: “We’re going to do this today. Kadima is going to win, I know this and the public knows this… With God’s help and with your help this is what will happen.”

When asked what her mood was on election day, Livni said she was feeling very well. “In the end it is just a matter of numbers, but it will happen,” she said.

With regard to the wintry weather, Livni said: “In America there were temperatures below freezing and people still came.”

Earlier Tuesday, Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman cast his ballot near his home in the West Bank settlement of Nokdim.

The far-rightist said at the time that the heavy rain would not prevent his supporters from turning out to vote.

Polls show Lieberman winning at least 15 seats. His meteoric rise has stolen votes in droves from Likud, drastically narrowing the gap between the center-right party and its centrist rival Kadima in the run-up to the election.

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