Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party said late Tuesday afternoon that it was deeply worried by the relatively low election day turnout, and warned that if its supporters did not vote in the final few hours, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would stay in power.
Leaders and officials in Labor, Meretz and the two major Arab parties also expressed concern over the low turnout — with pollsters predicting voting levels in the Arab sector could drop to their lowest levels in decades. A poor performance by Labor, Meretz and the Arab parties would improve Netanyahu’s victory prospects, since it would mean a relatively weak centrist-left-Arab bloc and more Knesset seats for his Likud’s right-wing and ultra-Orthodox allies.
Ex-IDF chief Gantz and Lapid were said to be holding an “emergency meeting” at 6 p.m., because of purportedly “neck and neck” polling between Likud and Blue and White. Blue and White had been four seats ahead of Likud in some pre-election surveys, though the same surveys still indicated Netanyahu would be best-placed to form a majority coalition.
Lapid issued a call to supporters to boost the vote: “This is the last hours of the campaign. Do not believe a word Netanyahu is saying now. The battle is tight: if you do not get everyone out of the house now, and send them to the ballot box, we will not win the elections.”
Uri Zaki, a leading official in the left-wing Meretz party and the husband of the party’s leader Tamar Zandberg, said he feared Meretz was “in danger” of falling below the 3.25% electoral threshold, and blamed Labor for “cannibalizing” the left of center vote. Meretz activists in the Negev, he said on Channel 12, were reporting that supporters “aren’t coming out to vote.” Meretz was polling at about 4-5 seats ahead of election day.
Labor officials were also quoted by Channel 12 expressing fears that the party would perform worse than expected in polls, which were already showing it struggling to make it into double figures in the next Knesset. Together with Tzipi Livni’s Kadima, Labor won 24 seats in 2015.
According to the Hadash-Ta’al electoral alliance, as of 3:30 p.m. only some 20 percent of Arab voters had cast ballots. “It is an emergency and we may have a Knesset without Arab parties,” a spokeswoman for the Arab-majority Hadash party said.
Two major Arab lists are running in Tuesday’s elections. In a final pre-election poll last Friday, Hadash-Ta’al, a merger of two parties from the outgoing Knesset’s Joint (Arab) List, had six seats; the Ra’am-Balad alliance of Arab factions received four seats, just above the electoral threshold.
Camil Fuchs, one of Israel’s most prominent pollsters, was quoted by Channel 13 journalist Raviv Drucker as saying Tuesday afternoon, “Voter turnout in the Arab community [at a low level] like this is something we’ve never seen before.”
Nationally, the Central Elections Committee reported 52% turnout as of 6 p.m., some 2.6% down on the same time of day in the 2015 elections.
It was not initially clear what was contributing to the reported low turnout among Arab voters, but it came after it was revealed that Likud had dispatched 1,200 election-day observers equipped with cameras to polling stations in Arab communities. Hadash-Ta’al alleged in a police complaint that the “illegal” action by the “extremist right” was a bid to intimidate Arabs from exercising their right to vote.
Netanyahu has also been warning supporters that Likud voters are not turning out in sufficient numbers, and that he will lose power if they do not head to the polls.