Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Israeli Election Analysis: Winners & Losers

The elections in Israel were won by the minor parties and lost by the major parties. Labour, Likud and Kadima all received final results that were below their polling levels. An apathetic electorate, despondant of the security issue, affected the result in two distinct ways:

  • Turning up and voting on niche issues (such as pensions, immigration and religion)
  • Not turning up to vote: voters for smaller parties are more likely to be passionate enough to turn up to vote, a low turnout will skew the results away from the major parties.

The biggest loser:

  1. Netanyahu's Likud: With 11 seats, the party which had until 100 days ago been at the centre of Israeli politics commanding a third of Israel's 120-member Knesset is now a minor party (finishing in fifth position).
  2. Olmert's Kadima: With 28 seats, the party is finishing well behind the 45 seats that were within reach only months ago. In the final weeks of the campaign, Olmert gambled by publicly announcing plans to withdraw from the West Bank. With the recent rise to power of Hamas, these statements were not well received by the electorate. The statements do have 2 positive effects:

a) Olmert positioned himself as a leader in his own right

b) Olmert has given his government a mandate to deal with the final borders of the State of Israel

  1. Pertz’s Labour party failed to gain any momentum on social issues as it has expected. It had three parties vying into its hitherto exclusive ‘social territory’: Shas won over the disaffected Sefardi minority; Israel Beitanu - the Russian migrants and the Pensioners party were the stars of the night winning over a large share of the retiree vote. That said, Peretz did prevent a slump in the labour vote that was expected to go to Kadima and as such can count the night as a moderate success.

The biggest winner:

  1. There is no doubt that the biggest winner was Rafi Eitan and his Pensioners party who received 7 seats and were expected to get 1 seat at most. As a social leaning party, they would be natural partners of a centre-left coalition
  2. Shas is the other big winner of the night, with 13 seats, they have captured the populist vote of the Likud and have surpassed that party in size. As the third largest party in Israeli politics and considering that the centre-left block could not reach 61 seats – Shas is looking at warming up some cabinet seats.
  3. Liberman’s Israel Beitanu was the other scavenger on the Likud vote, having captured the fiscally conservative vote from Likud and again surpassing that party in size. The Jerusalem Post noted that for the first time, Israel now has a party espousing both fiscal and political conservatism.

All in all, the results are disappointing as they give the next prime minister a weak mandate and large multi-partnered government that will pull policy in different directions. Ehud Olmert has the tough task of forming a coalition from a much smaller base than he had anticipated. This means many Kadima minister-designates loosing their cabinet seats to members of opposing parties, leading to potential rumblings within Kadima.

I had anticipated a coalition of Labour, Kadima and Meretz. It now looks like Meretz would have to vacate its position to its archrival Shas, and the Pensioners party will come out oblivion into government, leading to a coalition of 68 seats.

One should note the following nightmare scenario: Amir Peretz may have a chance to block Ehud Olmert by getting the Pensioners party and Shas on his team first. This could lead to a Peretz is in a position to demand to act as prime minister on a rotary basis (as Shamir and Peres have done in 1988), or worse, be given the opportunity by the president to form a coalition in his own right.

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