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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 March 2006, 16:23 GMT 17:23 UK
Laid-back election day in Tel Aviv
By Martin Patience
BBC News website, Tel Aviv

Israeli polling station
Kadima officials worry that low turnout will harm them
Under a cloudy sky, young Israelis sip cappuccinos and cafe lattes in Tel Aviv's upmarket Rothschild Boulevard.

Parents push young children in prams along this tree-lined street, some picnic on grassy verges, while others walk their dogs.

In Israel, election day is a holiday, and people generally spill onto the streets to take in the carefree atmosphere.

But uniquely for an election in this country, most Israelis will tell you that the election result is a foregone conclusion.

Kadima, the party founded by Ariel Sharon - the prime minister felled by a massive stroke in January - is ahead in all the polls and looks likely to lead the next government.

I think it's time to do what Ehud Olmert says we should do
Irit Yatziv, Israeli voter

"It's been a really dull campaign because everyone knows that Kadima is going to win," says Jonathan Matalon, 26, a lawyer, tucking into a roast beef ciabatta sandwich at one of the many restaurants that line the street.

"Everybody is wondering how big the Kadima victory will be?"

Growing consensus

Led by Ehud Olmert, Kadima's big political idea is to draw Israel's final borders by 2010.

There is a growing consensus among Israelis - particularly after the surprise victory of the militant group Hamas in the Palestinian elections in January - that Israel must continue with its policy of unilateral withdrawals from the West Bank.

For many Israelis, this election is seen as a referendum on this policy.

Do Israelis feel safer than they did at the last election?

At the polling station hosted by Gordon Elementary School, close to Tel Aviv's sandy beach, many of the voters had been swayed by Kadima's big idea.

"I decided in the car on the way to the polling station to vote for Kadima," says Natan Guter, 32, a computer consultant, who in the past voted for Labour.

"We saw that the Palestinians gave their votes to extremists (Hamas) and it would be easy for us in Israel to vote for our extremists," he says.

"But I believe in the path for peace, and I believe that the Palestinians must have their own land to build their state, and this is why I voted for Kadima."

Another former Labour voter, Irit Yatziv, 60, says that she has given up on the idea of negotiating with Palestinians and has been won over to Kadima.

What social issues would Israeli voters like addressed?

"I think it's time to do what Ehud Olmert says we should do," says the textile designer.

"Olmert is quite a manipulator and I believe he can draw our final borders," she says.

"He's less about ideology more about pragmatism."

Turnout worry

But there is concern in Kadima circles that voter apathy could limit the size of their victory.

The lone security guard at the Gordon Elementary School spent more time tending dogs, left outside as their owners went to cast their ballots, than frisking voters.

Voter turnout is expected to be the lowest in Israel's history of general elections.

Smaller turnouts tend to favour the right-wing parties, such as Likud, whose supporters are more likely to vote.

Some supporters of Kadima, believing that the party's victory is secure, are even turning to other parties.

One such voter is Alon Kastiel, 26, who is voting for the small left-wing party Meretz.

"I love Kadima and hope they win," says the furniture designer.

"If I ever felt there weren't going to win, then I would definitely vote for them. But they don't need my vote."

Kadima officials will be hoping he is right.

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