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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Explaining The Israeli Election: How It Works, and What To Look For As Results Start Coming In

In Israel the election is just one part of the political process, depending on the results as of tomorrow the politics truly begin. And even if Netanyahu's party Likud ends up 2-4 seats behind Herzog's Zionist Union party (which is what the final polls predicted). Bibi may still be the one asked by Israel's President Rivlin to form a government (BTW asking a party leader to form a government is the only real power held by the Israeli President).

In Israel voters do not vote directly for a Prime Minister, nor do they vote for a representative---remember it's a tiny country. Actually there were direct elections for the Prime Minister's in the 1980's but that was changed back to the original system when direct voting didn't produce governments that were more stable.

When voters went to the polls today they voted for a party list. The list was a docket of candidates in a particular ranking of importance set by the party leadership (first on the list was the party leader/Prime Minister candidate). Seats are awarded to each party that meets a minimum threshold of 3.25% of the total votes gets seats in Knesset (parliament). Seats are given out in the order they appear on the list. In previous elections the minimum threshold was 2%, so with the higher percentage necessary for seats many parties are running joint lists. However, because the percentage is still small many of the smaller parties gain seats and power in the Knesset, it also means that parties that do well in one election can disappear in the next.

Once the votes are counted the President of Israel (a largely ceremonial position) will ask the leader of one party (usually the one with the most seats but not always) to form a government, but first he speaks to each of the leaders of parties with a Knesset seat, the leaders tell the president who they think should be Premier.  That's when the REAL politics begin.

In Israel's short almost 65-year history, no party has ever gotten a majority of the 120 seats in the Knesset. Every government has been a coalition. Notice the number 120 that means that the approximately 23-26 seats general predicted to be the total for the winning party only represents around 20% of the total vote.

But that's only part one. The other part of the equation one needs to watch is which other party gets what.

For the Americans who are reading this, do you remember all the deals that were made in the senate to pass Obamacare, like when Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson got all the extra benefits for his state to change his vote? Well folks, you ain't seen nutting yet!

In the next few weeks deals will be made for cabinet positions, policies, etc., all in the name of building a coalition of 61+ votes to lead Israel.

So using the list of parties below keep an eye on how much each of the parties below receive, because they will be the important ones in forming a coalition government.

A few things to point out, first of all, Netanyahu's claim about no Palestinian State made yesterday. It was all about coalition politics.  Bibi made the claim to steal votes from the smaller conservative parties.

Looking at the final poll results from last week, Netanyahu has plenty of potential coalition partners to make a majority but needs to gain enough seats to win, or be close to Zionist Union that Likud gets selected by the President to form a government.

This year all of the Arab Parties have combined for a united list.  It looks as if the Arab list may finish as high as fourth or fifth. I cannot see a scenario where the Arab party joins a Likud coalition.

This year the power broker may very well be the Koolanu party. Koolanu which was partially formed by the left overs of the Kadima Party which was formed by Ariel Sharon (from Likud) when he was PM is considered center-right, however their issues are economic (which is the real issue in this campaign). Koolanu would partner with either party.  Koolanu currently polling at around ten seats will hold the balance.

The hopeful scenario in Netanyahu's circle is that Koolanu Party leader Kahlon hasn't abandoned his Likud roots, and after exacting a hefty price from Netanyahu (the finance and housing ministries for starters) he will recommend him to the president.

On the other hand Kahlon's distrust of Netanyahu. While he has remained generally neutral toward the two leading parties throughout the campaign, there is ample evidence that he has not changed his opinion of his old boss which wasn't very good, and will be happy to bring him down and serve in a Zionist Union cabinet.

A Kahlon recommendation can make or deny Netanyahu the Prime Minister's office, but unless there is a total Likud collapse, Herzog will still have to find a creative way to build a coalition that will have to include ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, and strongly secular Yesh Atid to command a Knesset majority. The rabbis of the Religious parties say they never sit with Yesh Atid in the same government, but once the election is over things may change, and they could go with the liberal Zionist Union party if given certain ministerial portfolios.

In the end Israeli politics are totally crazy party results-shifts can happen fast. The last pre-election polls were published Thursday which means the polling ended Wed, six full days before the election. In Israeli election timing that was ages ago.

At approximately 10 PM Eastern, the results should start coming in from Israel.  If the results are close, the real election (forming a coalition) could take weeks. So don't get too excited one way or the other because the election may be over today, but the electioneering is just beginning.


Unknown said...

Considering we have an emperor with no clothes in the white house, nudity is the ONLY transparency we get!

Unknown said...

Thank you for this highly informative guide to the many variables in the Israeli parliamentary election.

Unknown said...

Dittos to what Heinlein said!

Unknown said...


Unknown said...

If Netanyahu wins. Man is O-dumber going to be ticked off.