Labor Party members to choose leader

Labor Party members to choose leader

Voting booths open at 10 a.m.; Shelly Yachimovich expected to retain post against MK Isaac Herzog

Shelly Yachimovich and Isaac Herzog at a Labor Party Knesset faction meeting in 2013. (Flash90)
Shelly Yachimovich and Isaac Herzog at a Labor Party Knesset faction meeting in 2013. (Flash90)

Some 55,000 members of Israel’s Labor Party will have a chance to choose a new leader, or stick with the current one, in a hotly contested party primary Thursday.

Shelly Yachimovich, who has led the opposition party since September 2012 but faced some criticism after its middling performance in Knesset elections earlier this year, will try to retain her seat against challenger MK Isaac Herzog.

Polls will open at 10 a.m. at 79 voting stations around the country, where party members will be able to cast ballots regardless of place of residency. Results are expected to be announced late Thursday.

A recent poll commissioned by journalist Nissim Mishal showed Yachimovich holding a comfortable lead over Herzog among Labor voters, 64.4 percent to 35.6 percent.

A separate poll conducted among the general public showed most Israelis would prefer to see Herzog head the Labor party, rather than Yachimovich, 54% to 46%.

Once a powerhouse in Israeli politics and the flagship of the Israeli left, Labor has seen its influence wane over the last decades, with a revolving door of leaders helming the faction.

If Yachimovich wins in November, it will mark the first time a Labor leader has been reelected to another consecutive term since 1992. Likud has seen four leaders in the 65 years of Israel’s existence; Labor has seen eight in the past two decades.

That instability, Yachimovich’s supporters say, has been a key factor in the party’s lackluster showing in recent years. Labor has held the premiership for only two years in the past 17.

“We’re going to make history,” Yachimovich’s spokeswoman Bar Peled told The Times of Israel in October. “The Labor party will reelect a chairperson for the first time in a long time.”

However, “we’re not taking victory as a given,” Peled added.

Yachimovich has the public support of seven Labor MKs — Avishay Braverman, Michal Biran, Moshe Mizrahi, Mickey Rosenthal, Itzik Shmuli, Nachman Shai and Stav Shaffir — and the tacit support of more. Some MKs, such as party secretary-general Hilik Bar, are refusing to side with a candidate due to their roles in the party’s institutions, but were identified in the past as Yachimovich supporters.

Herzog, a former welfare minister and popular leader in the party, has garnered the support of only two MKs, Eitan Cabel and Erel Margalit, and even his supporters have acknowledged his chances against the incumbent are slim.

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