Ambiguous Election Result Leaves Israel in Flux

Daily News Article   —   Posted on February 11, 2009

(by Patrick Goodenough, CNSNews.com) – Israeli voters handed Kadima and its leader, Tzipi Livni, a small victory in elections Tuesday, but the strong showing of right-wing parties makes it far from certain that she will be able to build a workable governing coalition and become Israel’s second female prime minister.

As results came in overnight Wednesday, the margin of difference between Kadima and Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud in turn narrowed and widened, settling finally on a 28-27 seat lead for Kadima in the 120-member Knesset.

A surging Yisrael Beiteinu (“Israel our Home”) party under Avigdor Lieberman looked set to take 15 seats and, in a showing that marks a new low point for the once-mighty Labor, Ehud Barak’s party struggled into fourth place, two seats behind Yisrael Beiteinu.

To rule as prime minister, Livni would need to muster a coalition of at least 61 seats. But with conservative parties together looking set to control about 65 seats, building a coalition would be a significantly easier task for Netanyahu.

Far from conceding defeat, the Likud is predicting its leader will be the next prime minister.

Likud Party leader Binyamin Netanyahu greets supporters at his election headquarters in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2009. (AP Photo)
“The Israeli people have spoken loud and clear, our way has triumphed and we will lead with it,” Netanyahu told supporters and party workers in Tel Aviv late on Tuesday night. “The national camp led by the Likud has clearly won the edge.”

Whoever forms the next government, the outcome shows a sizeable swing to the right, with the Likud, which held only 12 seats in the previous Knesset, more than doubling its representation.

Israel’s proportional representation electoral system sets a low threshold – just two percent – for entry into parliament, thus favoring smaller parties. Coalition negotiations are typically drawn out and messy, as small parties demand concessions from an aspiring prime minister in return for their support.

Lieberman, who campaigned on a controversial platform of tying citizenship to an oath of loyalty to the state, did not do as well as some predicted, but has nonetheless emerged as a factor neither Likud nor Kadima can ignore.

Although the head of the biggest party after an election is usually asked to form the next government this is not stipulated by law.

After consulting with all party leaders once final results are officially declared, Shimon Peres, Israel’s ceremonial president, may ask Netanyahu to form the next government if persuaded that Livni will not succeed in doing so. [The political party] Shas, which looks set to control 11 seats, has already said it will recommend to Peres that he turn to Netanyahu.

If Netanyahu is asked to form a government, he will likely team up with nationalist and orthodox parties in a right-wing coalition that is hawkish on Iran and skeptical about making concessions to the Palestinians – policies that will complicate U.S.-sponsored efforts to reach a Mideast peace settlement, and are at odds the Obama administration’s overtures to Iran.

If Peres asks Livni to form a government, her potential options include:

  • Trying to negotiate a broad unity coalition built around Kadima, Likud and Labor, a move likely to face resistance in the two latter parties. In an early overture late Tuesday, Livni called on Netanyahu to join a Kadima-led unity coalition. A Likud presence in such a government would hamper Livni’s ability to make concessions in peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Trying to build a coalition with Yisrael Beiteinu and Labor. It remains to be seen whether Lieberman would be willing to enter a Kadima-led coalition – and if so, what price he will demand. Labor is also uncomfortable about the prospect of being in government with Lieberman, and his presence would also rule out the entry of smaller left-wing parties. She could also turn to Shas, but the ultra orthodox party refused to back Livni last year because, it said, she would divide Jerusalem.
  • Agreeing to an arrangement that would see Kadima and Likud rotate leadership over the next four years. Likud and Labor had such an pact after a stalemated election in 1984, with Labor’s Peres and Yitzhak Shamir of Likud swapping the premiership halfway through the term.

Whatever happens, calls for reform of Israel’s electoral system are likely to grow. Those arguing for change say that lifting the electoral threshold would strengthen the bigger parties, reduce fragmentation and stabilize government.

Previous attempts to do so, however, have run into opposition from small parties which, having edged their way into parliament are reluctant to endorse changes that would see them drop out again.

The Central Elections Committee reported that 65.2 percent of 5.2 million eligible voters cast ballots on Tuesday. The turnout was two percent higher than in the last election, in 2006.

All original CNSNews.com material, copyright 1998-2008 Cybercast News Service. Reprinted here with permission from CNSNews. Visit the website at CNSNews.com.

Questions

READ THE “BACKGROUND” BELOW BEFORE ANSWERING THE QUESTIONS

1. Name the candidates (and their parties) who won the top three number of seats in the Knesset.

2. A coalition is defined as a temporary alliance of distinct parties, persons, or states for joint action; the union of different political parties or groups for a particular purpose, usually for a limited time.
Why would it be easier for Mr. Netanyahu than for Ms. Livni to build a coalition?

3. What was central to Mr. Lieberman’s campaign platform?

4. The head of the party who wins the most Knesset seats in an election is usually asked by the President to become the Prime Minister and form the next government. If Ms. Livni’s party won the most number of seats, why might President Peres ask Mr. Netanyahu to form the next government?

5. If Mr. Netanyahu forms a coalition with Nationalist and orthodox parties, what will their positions most likely be on Iran and the Palestinians?


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Background

THE ISRAELI GOVERNMENT:
The type of government Israel has is a parliamentary democracy.

The Prime Minister of Israel is the head of the Israeli government and is the most powerful political officer in Israel (the title of President of Israel, despite being head of state, is an honorary position). He or she wields executive power in the country, and has an official residence in Jerusalem.

The Knesset is the legislative branch of the Israeli government. Every 4 years (or sooner if an early election is called, as is often the case), the 120 members of the Knesset (MKs) are elected by Israeli citizens who must be at least 18 years old to vote. The Knesset has the following responsibilities:

  • enacts laws (the Knesset can pass any law by a simple majority – 61 of 120 votes)
  • elects the president and prime minister (although s/he is ceremonially appointed by the President)
  • supervises the work of the government
  • reserves the power to remove the President of the State and the State Comptroller from office and to dissolve itself and call new elections.

–The prime minister is selected by the president as the party leader most able to form a government, based on the number of parliament seats her or his coalition has won. After the president’s selection, the prime minister has forty-five days to form a government. The members of the cabinet must be collectively approved by the Knesset.

–The head of the biggest party after an election is usually asked (by the President) to become the Prime Minister and form the next government, altough this is not stipulated by law.

–A coalition government is a cabinet of a parliamentary government in which several parties cooperate. The usual reason given for this arrangement is that no party on its own can achieve a majority in the parliament.

–The candidates whose parties won the largest number of seats in the Knesset in the February 10, 2009 election are:
Tzipi Livni (Kadima party) with 28 votes and Benyamin Netanyahu (Likud party) with 27 votes.

–To rule as prime minister, Ms. Livni would need to create a coalition of at least 61 seats. But with conservative parties together looking set to control about 65 seats, building a coalition would be a significantly easier task for Mr. Netanyahu.

Go to wikipedia.org for information on the Prime Minister of Israel, the Israeli Knesset and coalition governments.