Kadima win the election but look set to lose the battle for PM
So, in the end, the oft-derided Israeli exit polls were right, with Kadima having a very narrow seat lead, beating Likud 28-27, but for the opinion pollsters this proved to be a “1992”, with Likud leading virtually all the polls and some by wide margins. Unlike in previous elections, the counting of the double envelope votes from the military, diplomats etc didn’t improve the showing of Likud and parties of the right in Knesset mandates.
In the election results, Kadima held its ground compared to 2006, while Likud more than doubled its vote compared to the disaster of three years ago. However, Kadima’s showing at the election was at the expense of the parties to its left, as Labor finished fourth for the first time ever, and Meretz crashed to just three mandates, as traditional left-wing voters moved to Kadima – “vote Tzipi to stop Bibi” – and Livni was also successful in making use of her gender to attract the female vote. Yisrael Beitienu finished third with 15 seats but didn’t make the huge breakthrough into the twenties that some had been expecting, while the haredi parties of Shas and United Torah Judaism saw their Knesset strength down just a seat each.
Looking at the 18 electoral regions of Israel, Kadima held nine (Dan Darom, Dan Tzafon, Hadera, Haifa, Haifa-Carmel, Ha’sharon, Petah Tikva, Rechovot, and Tel Aviv) – and of these all but Petah Tikva are on the coast, with Tel Aviv now safe for Kadima with Labor well behind in third (Labor managed no second places and only three thirds in the regions). Likud meanwhile gained Ashkelon and Be’er Sheva (strong YB showings in both of these), Jerusalem, Judea, Kineret, Ramla, and Zefat. Finally, Hadash finished as the leading party in two regions, Akko and Jezreel, but with just 16% and 15% of the vote respectively in what would be highly-fragmented six-way marginals in a UK context.
As one Israeli commentator has pointed out, the maneouvrings of the parties and leaders this week can be seen as something of a phoney war. The official election results won’t be published until next Wednesday, and only then will President Peres take soundings from party leaders and charge someone with forming a new government within 42 days. He’s not obliged to let the leader of the largest party “have first go”, and will be guided by the opinions of party leaders as to who can best put together a stable coalition.
Predicting the makeup of the new government is something of a mug’s game until Peres names someone to try to form it – although almost all are agreed that this will be Netanyahu, despite Likud’s second-place showing. Reports are often contradictory: Labor will be going into opposition after their heavy defeat – no they won’t, they’re engaged in secret talks with Likud and Kadima to form a grand coalition. (Barak’s predecessor as party leader Amir Peretz will however be challenging for the leadership). Essentially the choice is between a Likud-Kadima “unity government”, with perhaps Livni staying at Foreign Minister and Mofaz at Defense while Likud have the premiership and Finance, or a right-wing government – and if the latter, could Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas get along after the bad blood during the campaign?
Even this weekend, the different stories come and go – the Jerusalem Post reporting that Netanyahu and Lvni will hold unity talks while Haaretz says that Livni is hinting that she’ll reject an offer to join a government led by Bibi. What will tomorrow’s story be? It’s only towards the end of this week that we’ll have a much clearer view once the formal process to succeed Olmert as PM gets underway. Supposedly, Obama wants a Likud-Kadima government to help give the peace process its best chance – will he get his way?