Livni apparently wins narrow victory in Israeli Poll

Feb 11, 2009 | AIJAC staff

Update from AIJAC

February 11, 2009
Number 02/09 #05

As readers may be aware, after the counting of all regular votes, but not military and overseas ballots, Israel’s election yesterday saw the ruling Kadima party, led by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, finish just ahead of the Likud party under former PM Binyamin Netanyahu. While this could change as the aforementioned additional ballots are counted, projected seats in the next Knesset are as follows at the moment:

  • Kadima – 28 seats and 23% of the vote.
  • Likud – 27 seats and 21% of the vote.
  • Yisrael Beteinu – 15 seats and 12% of the vote.
  • Labor – 13 seats and 10% of the vote.
  • Shas – 11 seats and 9% of the vote
  • United Torah Judaism – 5 seats and 4% of the vote

The remainder of the 120 seat Knesset will consist of the the left-wing Meretz party with three seats, two small right-wing parties, National Union and Jewish Home, with four and three seats respectively, and three small predominantly Arab parties with a total of 11 seats all together. (Numbers in more details available here.)

However, while this apparently represents a narrow come from behind victory for Kadima and Livni, it is unclear who will form the next government, because, as noted in yesterday’s Update, an election in Israel is only the beginning of the process of forming government. Further, Likud’s Netanyahu appears better placed, according to most observers, to form a governing coalition, despite trailing slightly in the actual vote. Therefore, both Netanyahu and Livni have effectively claimed victory.

This Update therefore leads with an analysis from the Jerusalem Post of the dilemmas of Israeli President Shimon Peres, who, as part of his largely ceremonial role, must ask the party leader he believes best able to do so to form a government (once the formal result is announced next week). As the Post notes, until now, every Israeli President has selected the leader of the largest party, but there is no requirement that he do so, and if he finds the majority of other parties prefer Netanyahu, Peres may possibly select him. However, it appears he may have a significant dilemma if, as appears quite possible, a larger portion of the Knesset expresses a preference for Netanyahu over Livni, but he does not appear to have a clear majority. For all these details on the likely political process ahead in Israel, CLICK HERE. More on the technicalities and complication of forming Israel’s next government in this dispatch from AFP. Meanwhile, as mentioned in the article above, President Peres had an article in the Washington Post opposing those who call for a “one state solution” in the Middle East.

Next up, Israeli journalist and blogger Shmuel Rosner looks at the winners and losers from the election. He argues Livni is the big winner despite her potential difficulties forming a government. He argues her surprise victory can be attributed mainly to an “anyone but Netanyahu” feeling among many voters, with Livni the most credible alternative. He also looks at a number of political leaders likely to face trouble in their own parties, not least Labor’s Barak, Yishai of Shas, Oren of Meretz, and potentially Netanyahu, if he is unable to form government in the end. For Rosner’s complete take, CLICK HERE. Additional analysis of the result comes from Herb Keinon of the Jerusalem Post, who argues concern over Yisrael Beteinu and its controversial leader Avigdor Leiberman helped Livni, and blogger David Hazony, who also notes the Leiberman factor, as well as the solid turnout in this election. 

Finally, Attila Somfalvi of Israel’s largest circulation daily, Yediot Ahronot, raises a possibility likely to be much talked about by Israel’s political class in coming days – a unity government in which Livni and Netanyahu rotate the top job. There is a precedent in Israel when, following the 1984 election which led to a complete left-right deadlock, Shimon Peres, then of Labor, and Yitzhak Shamir of Likud took 2 year turns being prime minister in a national unity government. Somfalvi admits that neither Livni or Netanyahu will like the idea, but they may be forced into it if there appears no other choice. For his discussion of this possibility, CLICK HERE. Also raising this idea was Bradley Burston of Haaretz. Meanwhile, Aluf Benn, also of Haaretz, instead urges a Labor-Kadima merger.

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Analysis: A decisive president’s possible dilemma


Jerusalem Post ,
 Feb 10, 2009 18:22 | Updated Feb 10, 2009 19:12

Shimon Peres was decisive Tuesday, urging Israelis to come out and exercise their democratic right to vote, and reminding them that the alternative to the ballot box is the bomb and the gun.

He was decisive, in an opinion piece published in The Washington Post on election day, in restating the joint Israeli-Palestinian imperative for a two-state solution. “Having personally witnessed the remarkable progress we have made with the Palestinian Authority in recent years,” he wrote, “I believe that a two-state solution is not only the best resolution to this age-old conflict but one within our reach.”

But the final election tally, which should be clear by the time he wakes up – very early, as is his habit – on Wednesday morning, may present a challenge even to the decisive president.

Election legislation grants Peres considerable leeway when it comes to deciding which politician to charge with the task of forming our next coalition. And while tradition has always seen the head of the largest Knesset party given the first opportunity to do so, this election’s results could present a fresh presidential headache.

If Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud proves the polls right and emerges as the largest faction, heading a right-wing bloc with a Knesset majority, Peres, who will consult with the various party leaders once the official results are in, will be spared much deliberation and the man who lost power a decade ago will be given the presidential nod.

Alternatively, if Tzipi Livni’s Kadima maintains its final-days momentum, eases ahead of the Likud and, however improbably, Livni wins the prime ministerial recommendation of party leaders representing a Knesset majority, she will be given the president’s authority to try to succeed where she failed just three months ago in building a governing coalition.

Where Peres would have a certain dilemma is if the final tally shows Kadima as the largest party, but Netanyahu the favored prime minister of most of the new intake of MKs. Here, too, though Peres’s decision should be relatively straightforward: Netanyahu would be given the first chance to build a government.

That dilemma would deepen considerably, however, if Kadima is the biggest party, Netanyahu gets more support than Livni from the various party chiefs with whom Peres consults, but that support for Netanyahu falls short of the 61 seats that constitute a Knesset majority. Who, then, would the president choose to form a coalition? Would his path through these uncharted waters be informed by the fact that Livni’s Israeli-Palestinian vision is far closer than Netanyahu’s to his own? Which other factors might guide him?

In this context, it is worth noting that neither Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beiteinu nor United Torah Judaism has publicly stated which would-be prime minister it will back. Lieberman, of course, has prime ministerial aspirations of his own.

Should the president face this kind of dilemma, furthermore, it would underline the unworkability of the Israeli electoral system, which has gradually seen “big” parties losing support to the extent where, even in 2006, no single party won the backing of so much as a quarter of the Knesset and Kadima thus did not even hold a majority inside its own coalition.

A repeat of that kind of splintered parliament, or a worsening of the phenomenon, would seem likely to condemn Israel to new general elections in the not-too-distant future, and to bolster the imperative for urgent electoral reform, with the system of pure proportional representation amended to feature at least a partial constituency vote.

Then again, the need for reform was one of the conclusions drawn in 2006, and yet the outgoing Knesset could not even agree on so much as a slight raising of the 2 percent “threshold” for parliamentary representation.

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Rosner’s Domain: So – are you ready for election night surprise?


Tuesday Feb 10, 2009

Two days ago I asked “are you ready for election night surprise?”

So, are you ready now?

Prime Minister: Election Day was the beginning, not the end, of a long process. Don’t believe any of the candidates – no party will make commitments tonight, no deals will be finalized, no coalition will be formed. Netanyahu and Lieberman had a conversation, but the later is probably much too shrewd to make promises now. He will take his time, and will make the most out of this tricky situation.

Netanyahu: There’s a very large group of Israelis who do not want Netanyahu as Prime Minister. Those Israelis left Meretz, Labor and other parties and voted for the only candidate who could credibly claim that she can defeat the leader of Likud (more about it here).

The big winner: Livni. She kept hoping when the polls weren’t optimistic and her two male competitors kept attacking her. But winning means being the Prime Minister. Remember – she already tried once a couple of months ago to form a coalition, and failed.

The big loser: Netanyahu. He might have lost a race that was practically over. Lieberman didn’t get as many mandates as he hoped to get – but achieved enough. The hype of last week hurt him. Even voters who wanted a strong Lieberman did not want him to be the strongest politician around.

Political blocks: we knew the right was getting stronger, and it did. That is, for those still believing in the old formula of right-left. I think it’s outdated.

System: Many agree that the electoral system isn’t working and the lack of clarity tonight serves to prove such claim. However, with Labor the Lieberman somewhat smaller than expected, we do have two bigger parties and 3 medium-sized parties – not just 4-5 medium-sized parties. That’s something to celebrate.

Voter turnout: yes, it was better than feared. It was better than the 2006 election. But it is still not good. Almost 35% chose not to vote.

Labor Future:  Barak’s political future is not at all clear. There’s blood in the water, and some party members are already saying that getting rid of Barak is their next goal. In the meantime, speaking tonight, he keeps all options open. Another proof that we don’t yet understand what really happened today.

Left: Remember author Amos Oz’ “The Labor Party has finished its historic role”? He forgot to tell us that Meretz (4 mandates in exit polls) also has finished its historic role.

Leaders in trouble:
Barak; Netanyahu if he can’t form a coalition; Eli Yishai from Shas – my guess: he will not be the leader of Shas in the next round; Oron of Meretz – the failure of the “new” Meretz is not front and center tonight, but it is quite devastating as far as Oron’s future as the leader of this party is concerned.

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2 prime ministers

Ambiguous election result may force Livni, Bibi to agree to rotation

Attila Somfalvi

Ynet.com. 02.10.09, 23:27

Two potential prime ministers – this is what the Israeli public chose in the 2009 elections. According to a Ynet poll and exit polls commissioned by major TV stations, the 18th Knesset will not see a ruling party. Therefore, all options are open. Indeed, Tzipi Livni’s Kadima edged Netanyahu’s Likud, yet the rightist bloc won a clear majority.
A total of 63-65 mandates, according to the various exit polls, were given to the rightist and religious parties, compared to 50-52 granted to the center-Left camp (not including Balad and United Arab List – Ta’al, which on the eve of the elections declared they will not endorse the parties that backed the call to disqualify them.)
Tzipi Livni’s options are fairly limited. Tuesday night she already pledged to approach Likud and Labor and offer both of them to join her coalition. Later, she will attempt to also bring Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas into her government, while at the same time engaging in dialogue with Meretz – which won’t agree to sit in the same government with Yisrael Beiteinu.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu is also stuck, yet it appears his options are somewhat more diverse: He pledged to approach Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu before he talks to any other party. These two parties would boost his coalition by 25 mandates, yet this isn’t enough. He will have to – and he declared that he wants to – bring either Kadima or Labor into his government. Another possibility for him is to form a rightist-religious government with the Jewish Home and National Union, and without Labor and Kadima.
One should not underestimate the decision faced by Ehud Barak. More and more senior Labor officials are demanding that he head to the opposition instead of joining the Netanyahu or Livni government as a fifth wheel – especially in Lieberman’s presence. In the face of its slim number of mandates, Labor would not be able to offer substantive political support for the new coalition.
One of the possibilities being discussed within the political establishment is a repeat of the 1984 scenario – a rotation between the two large parties. Back then it was Peres and Shamir who traded places mid-way through their term in office. This was the only Israeli government to almost complete its four-year tenure.

Netanyahu does not like the idea, and neither does Livni, yet it is possible that for the sake of stability, and in the face of the ambiguous statement made by Israeli voters, there will be no other choice.

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