Israeli elections post record-low turnout of Arab voters: pollster

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JERUSALEM, April 9 (Xinhua) -- A leading Israeli pollster reported on Tuesday record-low voting rates among Israel's largest minority group on Tuesday's Election Day.

Camil Fuchs, a prominent pollster and a professor of statistics at the Tel Aviv University, told Channel 13 TV news that exit polls revealed an exceptional drop in Arabs' turnout.

"We have never witnessed such a thing," Fuchs said. "It might be the biggest drama in these elections."

If the figures are correct, it means most Arab parties, which represent the Arab minority in Israel, might not pass the electoral threshold needed to get into the Israeli parliament, or the Knesset.

Mtanes Shihadeh, leader of Balad, a nationalist Palestinian party, urged Arab citizens to get out and vote.

"The right wing plans to destroy the Arab parties," he said in a statement. "They want to erase us from the political arena."

Channel 12 TV news reported that loudspeakers in the mosques in Arab towns and villages across the country were used in the evening to urge people to go to the ballots.

Arab citizens of Israel are mostly Palestinians who stayed put during the 1948 Middle East war, which led to the statehood of Israel. Official figures show they suffer a lack of job opportunities and less government spending on education, health and infrastructure.

Earlier in the day, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party hired hundreds of activists with hidden cameras to film Arab voters in polling stations.

Ayman Odeh, leader of the Arab-Jewish Hadash Party, called the move "racist," saying it aimed at deterring Arab voters from arriving at the polling stations.

According to figures provided by the Central Elections Committee, the overall turnout among the general population at 6 p.m. local time (1500 GMT), four hours before the closing of the ballots, was 52 percent, slightly lower than the corresponding 54.6-percent turnout in the last elections in 2015.

The major rivalry in the parliamentary elections stands between Netanyahu, who struggles for his political survival amid corruption allegations, and Benny Gantz, former chief of forces and leader of the newly-formed centrist party of Blue and White.

The elections were widely perceived in Israel as a referendum on the decade-long consecutive ruling of Netanyahu, who is fighting to avoid being indicted in at least three separate cases of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

The voting began at 7 a.m. local time at more than 10,000 polling stations and is due to end at 10 p.m. local time. Enditem

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