Israelis voted on Tuesday, February 10, to elect a new parliament and government in a tight race between far-right parities led by hawkish former premier Benjamin Netanyahu and the ruling Kadima party of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
"We need a strong man who knows what he wants to do," Rami Golan, 60, told Haaretz.
"We need someone who will keep us safe."
More than 5.2 million voters are eligible to cast ballots in 9263 polls across Israel to elect a new 120-member Knesset with heavy rains and gusting winds raising fears of a low turnout.
A record 20 percent of the electorate remained undecided for until election day.
Israel’s three-week onslaught on the Gaza Strip, which killed nearly 1400 people, and the issue of security overshadowed the election campaigns.
For weeks, opinion polls have given the lead to Netanyahu whose campaign focused on security issues and threats to topple Hamas.
Final opinion polls gave Likud 25-27 seats compared to 23-25 for Kadima, still reeling from corruption scandals that forced Premier Ehud Olmert to handover party’s leadership to Livini, a 50-year-old former Mossad spy.
The ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party of hardliner Avigdor Lieberman is expected to be the new kingmaker with 18-19 expected seats compared to 14-17 for Labour.
"The trend we’ve seen the last few days indicates a very close battle," pollster Rafi Smith of the Smith Research Centre told Reuters.
"No one has jumped ahead and it’s tough to call."
No single party is expected to secure more than a third of the seats and coalition negotiations promise to be an arduous task.
Majda, a 37-year-old Israeli Arab woman, said she will vote for an Arab party.
"The most important thing is to vote for an Arab party and against the Jews, against the racists and against the massacre that they did in Gaza," she told the Jerusalem Post.
Israeli police whisked rightist MK Aryeh Eldad away from the Israeli Arab city of Umm al-Fahm after protestors shouted "murderer!" at him.
He was to replace fellow far-rightist Baruch Marzel, who was denied entry into the town by police to oversee its polling station.
Dozens of Israeli Arabs had gathered to block the entrances to the city in protest against the extremist’s appointment to the local election committee.
"We’re coming to condemn this racism and fascism," Army Radio quoted one of the protestors as saying.
Arabs, descendants of Palestinians who stayed after hundreds of thousands of compatriots fled or were driven from their homes by Zionist gangs in 1948, are estimated at 1.5 million or 20 percent of Israel’s 7.3 million population.
Though legally considered Israeli citizens, they face discrimination in all walks of life.
Poverty rate among Israeli Arabs is almost twice that of the Jewish population and they are also suffering from discrimination in jobs and education.
"We want to live in peace, but we won’t let any racist pass through Umm al-Fahm. He won’t get into our home."
(IslamOnline.net and newspapers)