Two Candidates Declare Victory In Israeli Elections
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
It is still unclear who will run Israel a day after elections there. With nearly all of the votes counted, the centrist Kadima party, headed by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, won 28 seats in the 120-seat parliament. The hard-line Likud bloc, headed by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is just one seat behind. Linda Gradstein reports.
GRADSTEIN: Tzipi Livni defied opinion polls taken before the vote, and her centrist Kadima party emerged as the single largest party in the Knesset, Israel's parliament. Speaking to party supporters in Tel Aviv last night, she said she will form the next government.
Foreign Minister TZIPI LIVNI (Israel): (Foreign language spoken)
GRADSTEIN: Kadima has changed the face of politics in Israel, she said. There is no left and no right, no different opposing groups but a center with a common ideology that unites people. Netanyahu also claimed victory, saying right wing parties had a clear win over the center-left and insisting he will be the next prime minister.
It's now up to President Shimon Peres to choose the leader of one party to try to put together a coalition. That's expected to happen some time late next week. The key to any government is likely to be Yisrael Beiteinu, the party headed by Russian-born Avigdor Lieberman, which emerged as the third largest party with 15 seats. Both Netanyahu and Livni met Lieberman today and asked for his support.
Lieberman, last night, told supporters he would prefer a right-wing government headed by Netanyahu, but he added he wouldn't rule anything out.
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GRADSTEIN: Speaking at Lieberman's party headquarters, Knesset member David Rotem says the party's first priority is passing a law that calls for all citizens of Israel, including Arabs, to swear an oath of loyalty to the state.
Mr. DAVID ROTEM (Knesset Member, Israel): Every Israeli who wants to be a citizen will he have to take an oath of loyalty and serve in the army or in national service. You can't get rights without duties.
GRADSTEIN: Many Arab citizens of Israel have attacked the plan as racist, meant to disenfranchise them. The proposal has increased Arab-Jewish tensions in Israel. Some of Livni's supporters are calling for a national unity government between Kadima and Likud that leaves Yisrael Beiteinu in opposition. Under such a deal, Livni and Netanyahu could each take a turn being prime minister. Whatever coalition is formed, it's likely to take weeks or months. For NPR News, I'm Linda Gradstein in Jerusalem.
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