Israel 2009 Archive


RealClearWorld’s top 5 elections of 2009

A few days ago the website RealClearWorld came out with a list of the five elections it considers the most significant of 2009. They are:

  1. Israel
  2. Iran
  3. Germany
  4. Japan
  5. Afghanistan

Well worth a read.


Israeli electoral reform?

Israel is one of the only countries in the world where its entire legislature is elected to represent the country as a whole, and it is often blamed for Israel’s unstable and rapidly-changing party system. It is true that Israel’s pure form of proportional representation contributes to instability in Israeli politics, although the dragging on of the Arab-Israeli conflict and Israel’s unique ethnic diversity and geopolitical position in the Middle East suggest that no electoral system would shift towards a stable two-party system any time soon.

In response to this week’s election results, there have been numerous calls for electoral reform in Israel, incuding from Tzipi Livni and Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman.

The ABC quotes former Labour MK Professor Shimon Shitreet proposing a possible model:

Professor Shitreet and others are proposing a change they think the smaller parties will accept, where half of the members would be elected by district and half would remain under the proportional system.

This model is used in Japan, South Korea, and most interestingly elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council, the body that became dominated by Hamas at the 2006 election.

Another possible model would be the MMP system used in New Zealand and Germany. Using New Zealand’s system, all parties except the five largest would be wiped out, making it easier to form a government. However, it is likely that at least some Arab parties would win constituencies in the north. The district around Acre would have four districts out of sixty, and has a substantial Arab population. This would allow Arab voters to keep representation in Parliament.

The biggest obstacle is that any electoral reform would almost certainly result in a higher electoral threshold, even if that comes about through indirect means, such as electing MKs through multi-member constituencies. While the five largest parties, as well as the Arab parties collectively, would still win seats under most mixed systems, the smaller parties would likely be wiped out or forced to merge with each other or with a major party. Most scenarios for forming a new government include some of those parties in a new governing coalition, and in spite of their small numbers they would likely veto any potential electoral reform. However, a potential alliance of Likud, Kadima and Yisrael Beiteinu would provide a majority government of large parties that could introduce serious electoral reform.


The right prevails in Israel

There’s a lot of stories touting a supposed narrow victory for Tzipi Livni’s Kadima in today’s Israeli election, but this reflects a first-past-the-post mentality with little value in Israel’s ultra-multi-party system. Rather than Livni coming out on top, it seems very likely that Benjamin Netanyahu will form the next government.

So here are the numbers at the moment. With 99% counted:

  • Kadima – 28
  • Likud – 27
  • Yisrael Beiteinu – 14
  • Labor – 13
  • Shas – 11
  • United Torah Judaism – 5
  • United Arab List – 5
  • National Union – 4
  • Hadash – 4
  • Meretz – 3
  • Jewish Home – 3
  • Balad – 3

In other words, Kadima 28, Likud 27, Beiteinu 14, Labor 13, Shas 11, other right-wing 12, Arab parties 12.

It’s also worth remembering that despite Kadima and Livni being portrayed as the centre-left party in this election, the party includes large elements of former Likud members. Indeed, the only parties solidly of the left (apart from the Arab parties) are Labor and Meretz, both of whom have been devestated.

Of course, there’s quite a lot of options. The most obvious is Likud-Beiteinu-Shas, which adds up to 52, and with smaller nationalist parties produces a majority. On the other hand, Kadima and Labor fall well short, although could get over the line with Beiteinu and Shas, although it’s hard to see Beiteinu working with Labor over Likud.

Alternatively a government including both Kadima and Likud could easily find the extra six seats needed for a majority, and could lock the ultra-nationalist Beiteinu out of power. In other words, there are many options, but ultimately most of them see Netanyahu in power, and any possible Kadima-led government would likely see a lurch to the right and would be much less stable than a Likud-led government.


Israelis come out and vote

So Israelis are now voting for their new Knesset. Polls close at 7am AEDT, and I hope to post an early results update at 9am followed by more detailed results at lunchtime. It appears that the gap between Netanyahu’s Likud and Livni’s Kadima has narrowed in recent days, although Netanyahu remains the clear favourite, with the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu remaining slightly ahead of Labor in all polls. Of course, polls on average only give Netanyahu 23% of the vote, suggesting that even a solid lead for Likud will still result in a lengthy wait before a new government is formed with minor parties.

Update: three different exit polls conducted by three Israeli TV stations all tell the same story: Kadima coming out on top with 29-30 seats, followed by Likud on 27-28, with Yisrael Beiteinu slightly ahead of Labor. However, if you group Likud and YB as against Kadima and Labor, the two blocs are about neck-and-neck. This is too close to call. Haaretz is providing live election results. With 10% counted, the two major parties are in a dead heat, 22% Kadima versus 21% Likud.

Update 2: With 43% of the vote counted, the results are reflecting the exit polls. Kadima 28, Likud 27, YB 16, Labor 12, Shas 11. It would be interesting if Shas defeat Labor, they were predicted to lose ground from 12 to 9 but look like they could hold all of their seats.


Likud/Yisrael Beiteinu ahead in Israeli election

Guest post from Ofir Thaler:

In predicting the winners in Israeli elections, especially in the last 15 years, it is nowhere near enough to just look at the top of the list of parties and see how the large parties are faring against each other. Israel’s system is based on proportional representation and has a low minimum of required votes to get into the Knesset (2%, just under three seats out of 120). Subsequently, every Knesset will generally have anywhere between 10-16 parties in it, all representing slightly (or wildly) different ideals and practical concerns. Just to make all of this more complicated, the political landscape is so volatile that minor, and sometimes even major, parties regularly merge, split or change direction based on both practical and ideological considerations. All of this means that the only (and I do mean only) way to make a government is by coalition, and coalitions these days are especially unstable (I won’t go into details and speculate about the reasons it has become even more unstable in the last 10-15 years).

This year, looking at the head of the recent polls (1/2/09) it looks like the right-wing Likud party, headed by former Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyhau is set up to take a majority of the vote. His closest opponents are the Centre-right Kadima party headed by Foreign Minister Zippi Livnvi and the Labour Party, headed by another former Prime Minister, Ehud Barack (by the way, Barack beat Netanyahu the last time they squared up against each other). It is quite obvious that the next Prime Minister will be either Livni or Netanyahu. Labour has been dithering around the 16-17 seat mark for a while (as opposed to the 25-30 for Likud and Kadima). However, because of the need to set up a coalition, a majority for either one of the them does not necessarily mean that they we will be PM – they need a favourable mix of parties in order to be able to set up anything resembling a stable coalition.

Looking at the polls for the rest of the parties show quite clearly that the righ-wing and religious parties are obviously stronger, including one outstanding result: Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party has matured from a small russian immigrant party with 4 seats in the 1999 elections, into a neo-fascist behemoth looking at 16 seats and beating Labour for third party status in several polls.

Lieberman’s strong-man putin-like persona is secularist but vehemantly zionist and militaristic, and is attractive to a large section of the secular population, jaded by years of inaction and corruption in the major parties. He has called for principles of ‘strong government’, the transfer of lands on which Arab Israeli citizens live to the palestinian authority and strict allegiance tests for all citizens.

This result is a major roadblock for any prospective Kadima/Labour coalition because his 16 seats include a large secularist constituentcy, forcing them to work together (there is, in fact, no conceivable way that either of them can set up a coation without the other) and deal with several fickle and opportunistic religious parties. It is is possible that they will deal with Lieberman, but Labour has been badmouthing him recently and has even called out Kadima for not doing so enough, indication that they probably won’t (or he won’t deal with them).

In my opinion, the most likely coalition to lead Israel after the next election will be a right-wing neo-conservative coalition, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, with the Likud and Yisrael Beitenu at it’s core. They will probably deal with a couple of minor right-wing parties and a religious party or two. I see it as possibly being one of the more stable coalitions in the last few years.

Make of it what you will, it’s going to be an interesting few years.


2009 election preview: Israel

The first big election of 2009 will take place on 10 February when Israelis go to the polls to elect a new Knesset. The election was triggered in late 2008 following the resignation of Ehud Olmert as leader of the governing Kadima party. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was elected Kadima leader but failed to get the agreement of all coalition parties, which has resulted in an election being called a year early.

Israeli politics is one of the most fragmented and confusing political systems in the West. This is derived both from the ultra-proportional electoral system and the impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on domestic politics. Israelis vote for a 120-member Knesset on a pure party list system. No MKs represent local electoral districts, rather all are elected to represent the entire country. Parties must receive at least 2% of the vote to gain representation in Parliament.

This system is primarily responsible for the large number of parties. Twelve parties won representation at the 2006 election, with five of them winning at least 10 seats. Israeli politics is also dominated by issues of security and the approach to the peace process. The left-right spectrum more reflects attitudes towards relationships with Palestinians, with parties like Meretz on the left-wing end of the spectrum more amenable to working with the Palestinians, and parties on the far right being the most opposed to cooperation.

Israeli politics for most of the last 35 years was dominated by Labor, the main centre-left party, and Likud, the dominant conservative party. Yet neither party has held a majority government, except for a short period in the late 1960s. Likud Prime Minister Ariel Sharon left Likud in late 2005, joining with fellow defectors from both Likud and Labor to form the centrist Kadima party, due to divisions in Likud regarding Sharon’s disengagement plans. Sharon suffered a devastating stroke in early January 2006, and has remained in a coma ever since. His deputy Ehud Olmert led Kadima into the election, which he won.

In addition to the three major parties, there are also a number of right-wing religious parties, including Shas and United Torah Judaism, who both represent different Ultra-Orthodox communities, and National Union-National Religious Party, a generally nationalist and zionist right-wing party.

There is also Meretz, a social democratic party. The neoliberal party Shinui has also previously had representation in the Knesset, a split before the 2006 election saw the creation of the Hetz party, and both were knocked out of the Knesset. Some polls have also suggested that the Greens may finally break through the 2% threshold after polling 1.5% in 2006.

Yisrael Beiteinu, a party representing Russian immigrants, and Gil, a party standing for pensioner rights, also have representation. There are also three Arab parties representing Israeli Arabs. Due to their anti-zionist policies, the option of including Arab parties in coalition governments is a non-starter, making it even harder to form a 61-seat majority.

As of the 2006 election, the numbers were:

  • Kadima – 29
  • Labor – 19
  • Likud – 12
  • Shas – 12
  • Yisrael Beiteinu – 11
  • National Union-National Religious Party – 9
  • Gil – 7
  • United Torah Judaism – 6
  • Meretz – 5
  • United Arab List – 4 (Arab)
  • Hadash – 3 (Arab)
  • Balad – 3 (Arab)

After the 2006 election, a coalition was formed with Kadima, Labor, Shas and Gil, for 67 seats. Yisrael Beiteinu has also participated in the government.

Despite the poor performance of Likud in 2006, the party has recovered under the leadership of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Polls since October have put Likud ahead of Kadima, while Labor lingers far behind. Kadima will be led into the election by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, while Defence Minister Ehud Barak, who was Prime Minister from 1999-2001, will lead Labor.

According to the latest Dialog poll of December 31, Kadima would lose two seats, Labor three, and Likud would gain twenty. If you group the smaller parties, you come up with:

  • Likud – 32
  • Kadima – 27
  • Labor – 16
  • Yisrael Beiteinu – 11
  • Arab parties – 10
  • Meretz – 7
  • Right-wing religious parties – 17

If you assumed the right-wing religious parties went with Likud, while Meretz and Labor went with Kadima (not necessarily the case), you would have Likud 49, Kadima 50, with Yisrael Beiteinu in the balance of power. This clearly indicates that the race could go either way at the moment between Netanyahu and Livni, although the numbers would suggest that Kadima is slightly stronger, as you would think that, with 10 Arab MKs, and 50 if Labor and Meretz go with Kadima, it is extremely difficult for Likud to gain a majority.

The biggest factor in this campaign has clearly been the conflict in Gaza, and how that plays out over the next month could very much influence the campaign. In particular, it appears that Livni and Barak, as the key figures in the government during the campaign, are hoping to gain support amongst right-wing Israelis and dent Netanyahu’s support. How Gaza plays out over the next month will likely determine the next Israeli Prime Minister. In particular, the campaign appears to have greatly assisted the Labor Party’s campaign, with an increase in campaign workers volunteering for the party.