Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Election surprises

The Israeli election results are out and they contain two major surprises.  1. Reduced support for Netanyahu.  Although Likud-Beiteinu remains the largest party with 31 seats, they lost many seats and this leaves Netanyahu weakened and with a reduced ability to form a strong government coalition.   Whether it was a mistake for Likud to join with Israel Beitanu or whether this loss was an inevitable result of the electorate wanting change is difficult to say.  2. Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid Party is the biggest winner, gaining 18-19 seats.  SInce this is a new party with a new leader one can assume that the voters went for it as a sign of wanting change, especially since Yair Lapid appeals to the middle class (and women) and is definitely centrist, unlike Labor and Tzipi Livni who are more leftist in their positions. 
The big losers in the election are: 1. Shaul Mofaz, whose Kadima party was essentialy wiped out in the election; 2. Tzipi Livni, whose Hatnuah Party failed to garner more than 6 seats. 3. Shelly Yacimovich of Labor, whose hope of becoming queen of a left wing resurgence has failed with only 17 seats; 3. The much heralded move to the right with Naftali Bennet's Bayit Yehudi Party failed to materialize, although they received a respectable 12-13 seats. 4.  The even more right wing Otzma Yisrael (Strong Israel) party failed to obtain any seats in the Knesset.
Overall, the left/right divide was exactly balanced with ca. 60 seats for each, but you could argue that the right has more ability to forma  government with Likud plus Bayit Yehudi outnumbering the left's Labor plus Meretz plus Hatnuah by 43 to 29 with Yair Lapid in the Center determining who he will crown king with his coalition support.  Of course, there are the religious parties Shas (11) and United Torah Judaism (6) that can be bought by either side, although they are more likely to go with Netanyahu than with Yacimovich.
Netanyahu has announced that he wants to form the widest possible coalition.  This may be difficult since some party positions are diametrially opposed, such as Yesh Atid and Shas, who are opposed on extending equal military service to the haredi community, and Hatnuah and Bayit Yehudi who are opposite in their support for a two-state solution to the Palestinian problem.  However, a good and experienced politician like Netanyahu should be able to square the circle and persuade them that its worth their interests to be in the coalition rather than outside.  The only major party that I cannot see joining Netanyahu is Labor, since not only has Shelly Yacimovich ruled this out prior to the election, but they differ so much in economic and security policy.  So the extended coalition might be Likud-Beitanu/Yesh Atid/Bayit Yehudi/Shas/UTJ, making a total of 78 seats.  If Netanyahu can achieve such a coalition and hold it together he will be somewhat of a political magician.  How his being weakened will play in foreigh policy will be an interesting and important issue. 


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