"This is a big victory for those who placed the disengagement before the people, over those who sought to see the elections as a rejection of the disengagement. I am satisfied with the results although we could have gotten more," Olmert said.
Kadima headquarters (Video: Yaron Brenner)
Olmert added that "it was too early to discuss coalitions. We'll wait until the real results. I'm proud of the fact that a party set up by Ariel Sharon succeeded in proving itself as a real center party which the Israeli people strive towards."
The acting prime minister is shortly expected to arrive at the Golan-Globus studios in Nave Ilan near Jerusalem in order to deliver his victory speech before party activists and candidates who are slowly gathering.
"This is a victory for Kadima, it will assemble the government and lead the next government," said Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz. "The aim is to realize what Kadima planned to lead, and that is first of all governmental stability. I believe that at the end of the day the government that Olmert will establish will bring good news for the State of Israel," he said.
In a first reaction, Lior Horev, a Kadima campaign strategic advisor, chose to discuss the party which Ariel Sharon abandoned. "The Likud is crashing because of Netanyahu and his aggressiveness," he said.
Regarding the results themselves, a Kadima source said: "This is a good result, Kadima won in a big way. A party set up only four months ago turned into the biggest centrist party and largest party in Israel."
Senior sources in the party said: "We expected more." The results of the exit polls generated only small numbers of applause in the Golan-Globus studious where the victory celebrations of the party that will apparently set up the next government of Israel will take place.
Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is expected to assemble that government. He viewed the results together with his wife Aliza and their children.
"We did our best. There were moments that weren't simple. The difficult results are a result of a low voter turnout. The Israeli public decided today unequivocally that it wants a different government. A government that will bring Israel permanent borders, a different government culture – and what is much more important, to continue in the path paved by the party's founder, Ariel Sharon," said a senior Kadima campaign official.
Ahiya Raved contributed to this report